A Look At Individual Unit Battles Between The Mountaineers & Pirates
West Virginia rushing offense
vs. East Carolina run defense
Both teams opened their respective regular seasons last weekend, but one game is not a big enough sample size to get a good feel for how each will perform overall. ECU had the worst rushing defense in the AAC and one of the worst in the country (111th), allowing 228.5 ypg a year ago before giving up a whopping 442 to FCS foe James Madison last week. WVU gained an average of 228.4 yards per game on the ground last year, and it’s hard to believe West Virginia won’t find plenty of running room on the Pirates.
Advantage – WVU
West Virginia passing offense
vs. East Carolina pass defense
ECU’s defense fared better against the pass (224. ypg, 62nd nationally) than it did against the run, but that was mainly because opponents ran so well on the Pirates, they didn’t have to throw often. Still, WVU’s offense has to continue to prove it throw consistently, as it did in the opener against Virginia Tech. The expectations remain high for new QB Will Grier and WR David Sills, along with returning wideouts Gary Jennings and Ka’Raun White. The expected return of Marcus Simms should also help.
East Carolina rushing offense vs.
West Virginia run defense
The Pirates not only had trouble stopping the run last year, they also didn’t run it very well either. ECU averaged just 132.4 rushing yards per game, which was 110th nationally. Other than 275 yards against an FCS foe, ECU ran for over 177 yards in just one other game. Meanwhile WVU’s defense against the run last year was OK (168.2 ypg). It allowed more than 200 rushing yards in just three games, but gave up 234 to Va Tech.
East Carolina passing offense vs.
West Virginia pass defense
The thing the Pirates did very, very well last year was throw the football. They averaged 334.7 ypg through the air, which was sixth nationally. All-American receiver Zay Jones has taken his NCAA single-season record 158 catches and 1,746 yards on to the NFL, but ECU returns enough to keep its passing attack very dangerous, and it seems to have found a quarterback in Duke transfer Thomas Sirk, who was named the starter against West Virginia on Monday.
Advantage – ECU
East Carolina special teams vs.
West Virginia special teams
East Carolina will be breaking in new kicking specialists, as its top punter and placekicker from last year have both departed. ECU does bring back its main returners, but neither came up with many big plays last season. Meanwhile, the Pirates’ coverage teams were also shaky at times. WVU’s specialists are all veterans. It needs better punt returns, but the other special teams’ play was fine in ‘16. If Billy Kinney can shake the cramps, the Mountaineers’ field position battles will be much different this week.
West Virginia is 18-3 all-time against East Carolina, including a 13-0 mark at Mountaineer Field. Of WVU’s 18 wins over the Pirates, all but four have come by double figures, though the two foes haven’t met since 2009. WVU hasn’t faced a team from ECU’s new home, the American Athletic Conference, since that league formed in 2013, but the Mountaineers are 78-30-1 all-time against teams that now comprise the AAC.
The short turnaround from its Sunday season opener could hamper West Virginia, but the enthusiasm of the year’s first home game should make up for that. ECU figures to be better than last year’s 3-9 mark, which included nine losses in the final 10 games. But other than the Pirates’ strong passing attack, WVU shouldn’t have too much to fear.
West Virginia 41, East Carolina 24