GREENVILLE, N.C. — Virginia Tech made everything look easy, from its young quarterback connecting downfield with his go-to veteran to a defense that spent three quarters shutting down just about everything.
Redshirt freshman Josh Jackson threw for 372 yards and five touchdowns — three to Cam Phillips — to help the 16th-ranked Hokies beat East Carolina 64-17 on Saturday, giving them a 3-0 start for the first time since 2011.
Virginia Tech trailed 17-7 after the first quarter, but roared out of that sluggish start by scoring 57 straight points to turn this into a rout. That included 34 points and four TD throws by Jackson in the third quarter alone.
“I didn’t think anybody panicked,” Hokies coach Justin Fuente said about the slow start. “I think our guys have some confidence that they can respond. … We didn’t come into the game thinking was going to be easy. And I thought our guys kind of reflected that.”
Jackson was off to a solid start, first by throwing for 235 yards and running for 101 more in his debut against West Virginia and then by leading the Hokies to a shutout win against Delaware. But he broke loose with a huge statistical day against an overmatched defense.
“I’m just getting used to it,” Jackson said. “I’m three games in, so I’m just trying to get more confident.”
Then there was Phillips, who had a program-record 14 catches for 189 yards. He punctuated his day with a perfectly executed route that left him wide open, and Jackson hit him in stride for a 45-yard score with 7:46 left in the third quarter.
Both Jackson and Phillips called it a day before the fourth.
“It just seemed like the day was for me,” Phillips said. “They kept calling the plays for me, it seemed like Josh was putting the ball where it needed to be and I’d make a guy miss and get a couple of yards here, a first down there. Just a great day, and I’m blessed for it.”
Gardner Minshew threw for two scores for the Pirates, who fell to 0-3 for the first time since 2004.
“It all just stopped,” Minshew said. “We stopped executing and dug ourselves a hole. … We were right there. It was our own fault we got out of it. We took ourselves out of the game.”
VIRGINIA TECH: Jackson is playing mistake-free football with eight TD passes and no interceptions. The Hokies also showed a familiar defensive edge by locking down on the Pirates after an early burst. And they improved to 5-1 on the road under their second-year coach.
ECU: Things were already bad for second-year coach Scottie Montgomery and managed to get worse. The Pirates reassigned their defensive coordinator after last week’s 56-20 loss at West Virginia, then gave up even more points and at least 600 yards (a season-high 675 Saturday) for the third straight game. And after their fast start fizzled to eliminate any chance of a desperation-fueled upset, the Pirates suffered their eighth loss by at least 20 points in 15 games under Montgomery.
“There was a lot we could build off of in the first half,” Montgomery said. “Not very much we can build off of in the second half.”
Minshew hit Trevon Brown for a 76-yard touchdown to highlight the Pirates’ opening quarter. But after tallying 204 yards on 18 plays in the opening quarter, East Carolina managed a total of 8 yards on its next 15 plays.
Minshew, who started with Thomas Sirk recovering from a concussion, completed just four passes the rest of the game.
“I did tell them I think we might set a record today if we’re not careful,” Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster said of ECU’s 17-point first quarter. “But the kids settled down and played good football the rest of the way.”
VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies host Old Dominion for an instate matchup on Sept. 23.
ECU: The Pirates visit Connecticut in a game rescheduled to Sept. 24 due to several postponements in the American Athletic Conference due to Hurricane Irma.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap