After years of near misses against Virginia Tech, East Carolina finally found the blueprint to success against Bud Foster’s air-tight man defense last year when the Pirates picked it apart with long seem routes and streak patterns in a 28-21 victory that snapped a four-game losing streak to the Hokies.
ECU won in large part thanks to a monster game from wide receiver Cam Worthy, who grabbed six passes for a career-high 224 yards.
While the rest of the Pirates’ receivers were locked up by Virginia Tech’s arresting 4-2-5 man scheme, Worthy used his size – he’s 6-foot-3, 220 pounds – and speed to find free space.
That was evident on ECU’s final drive, when Worthy hauled in catches of 31 and 28 yards to set up the Pirates’ game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left.
It’s a game plan ECU (1-2, 0-1 AAC) would like to duplicate when Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-0 ACC) visits Dowdy-Ficklen for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday.
“We know that we have to stretch them vertically downfield,” East Carolina’s sixth-year head coach Ruffin McNeill said. “That’s what we did last year.”
That, of course, was a totally different Pirates team. Worthy and Justin Hardy, the Pirates’ all-time pass catcher, graduated, along with Shane Carden, the quarterback who engineered that game-winning drive.
It’s superimportant (to stretch the field), you saw what happened last year with (Cam) Worthy and how much that helped us out. It’s so important to go out and catch those deep balls, and we have several guys that can do that.
ECU tight end Bryce Williams on attacking Virginia Tech’s defense
ECU’s revamped Air Raid attack will face its biggest challenge to date against a Hokies secondary that ranks 19th nationally in passing yards allowed (150.7). That group is led by corners Kendall Fuller, a nearly unanimous All-ACC preseason pick, and Brandon Facyson.
“(Virginia Tech’s secondary) is filled with long, big physical guys,” ECU offensive coordinator Dave Nichol said. “(They could be) the best group we play this year on the back end, definitely.”
Fuller is a 6-foot, 196-pound junior who was named a third-team All-American last season, and when he gets drafted, he will become the fourth Fuller to have played in the NFL, joining brothers Vincent, Corey and Kyle. Each brother starred at Tech.
“He’s just a super athletic guy that knows what he’s doing,” said ECU tight end Bryce Williams.
Facyson, a sophomore, stands 6-foot-2, weighs 196 pounds and was a freshman All-American in 2013 and despite having most of last season wiped out by a leg injury, was a preseason All-ACC second-team selection by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele this year.
The Pirates have lost back-to-back weeks to Florida and Navy, teams that wiped out ECU’s running game by stacking the box and daring first-year starting quarterback Blake Kemp to beat them.
This week figures to be no different, which means ECU will need at least one receiver to replace Worthy as the field stretcher.
“I think Davon (Grayson), Trevon (Brown) coming back this week will be able to,” McNeill said. “Bryce (Williams) has done a really good job going up, attacking the ball. Zay (Isaiah Jones) can stretch it.
“We have a lot of guys who we think can stretch the field and attack the football. It was good to see DaQuan Barnes step up the other day and Brandon Bishop make some plays.”
Jones, whose 30 receptions place him fourth nationally, has traditionally been more of an underneath target. At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, Grayson better fits the Worthy role but has caught only seven passes this season. Brown is a dynamic 6-foot-2, 210-pound sophomore but will be making his first appearance this season after being suspended for the first three games for violating team rules.
That leaves Williams as perhaps the Pirates’ best deep threat. At 6-foot-6, 258 pounds, the senior tight end lacks breakaway speed but is too big for corners and safeties to cover, and he runs good enough routes where linebackers will have trouble with him one-on-one.
So far this year, Williams is second on the team with 17 receptions, while his three touchdown receptions rank 12th in the country.
“It’s superimportant (to stretch the field). You saw what happened last year with Worthy and how much that helped us out,” Williams said. “It’s so important to go out and catch those deep balls, and we have several guys that can do that.”
That’s something the Pirates will find out Saturday.