CAROLINA & CONFERENCE USA
View from the East
Thursday, September 13, 2012
By Al Myatt
Many similarities between Pirates, USM
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There are parallels
between the East Carolina and Southern Miss football programs that
make the distance between the two Conference USA teams seem a lot
closer than the nearly 900 miles the Pirates will traverse to take
on the Golden Eagles at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Both teams come off road
losses to ranked foes.
The most publicized
similarity is an ongoing quarterback competition familiar to both
programs. Rio Johnson, Shane Carden, Brad Wornick and Cody Keith vied
for the position at ECU through spring ball and into preseason camp with
Johnson emerging to start the season opener,
a 35-13 win over Appalachian State.
When Johnson struggled last week in
a 48-10 loss at No. 9 South Carolina,
Carden came in and directed a pair of Pirate scoring drives in the
Like Johnson, Southern
Miss backup Arsenio Favor saw very little action in 2011. Redshirt
freshman Ricky Lloyd was involved in the position battle, as was Chris
Campbell, who started in a 49-20 loss at then-No. 17 Nebraska the first
week of the season.
True freshman Anthony
Alford ran effectively in a reserve role against the Cornhuskers and has
received the starting nod against the Pirates. Alford's head coach at
Petal (MS) High, which played for the state 6-A championship last
season, was Steve Buckley, who is now assistant head coach of the Golden
Alford is also a baseball
standout who signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. Coincidentally, Carden,
who was named the Pirates' starter on Monday, also has baseball
connections. His dad played for the Raleigh Mets in the Carolina League
in 1963 and was part of a multi-player trade that sent Donn Clendenon
from the Montreal Expos to the Mets in 1969. Clendenon became World
Series MVP for the "Miracle Mets" that season.
Campbell completed six of
11 passes against Nebraska for 69 yards and a score. Alford ran for 84
yards on 15 carries in the season opener and poses a dual threat for the
The respective quarterback
battles have been about replacing a guy named Davis.
Dominique Davis led ECU
offensively for two seasons before earning a roster spot with the
Atlanta Falcons. Austin Davis, who directed Southern Miss to the C-USA
championship last season, made the St. Louis Rams. Neither Davis was
The Golden Eagles won the
C-USA championship in 2011 and lost their coach, a situation the Pirates
went through in 2009. When Larry Fedora left for North Carolina, the
Golden Eagles brought in Ellis Johnson, a former ECU assistant who was
defensive coordinator at South Carolina at the time. Skip Holtz left ECU
after winning back-to-back league titles in 2008 and 2009. Incidentally,
the former Pirate skipper will be directing South Florida against
visiting Rutgers at 7:30 tonight (ESPN).
Ruffin McNeill is also a
former Pirates assistant and is now head coach at ECU. His history with
the program also includes a solid career as a strong safety from 1976
The most significant
similarity between the Pirates and the Golden Eagles this week is that
both want to get off to a good start in league play.
Upon further review
McNeill reviewed tape of
the South Carolina game and came to the same conclusion he reached after
watching the Gamecocks live at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"I thought leaving the
game they were a very good team," said the ECU coach. "After watching
the film, I confirmed that and reaffirmed it. ... I also saw that we
have a pretty good football team as well. Some things that we have to
fix are obvious. We began working on that Sunday."
ECU had five turnovers
against South Carolina — for the second straight year.
"Decision making has to be
better," McNeill said.
Four of the turnovers in
Columbia came via interceptions.
McNeill said the Pirates
bounced back in terms of the team psyche after the loss at South
"We're resilient," he
said. "Just like our university. ... They were down. They invested a
lot, as did the coaches. When you lose, it gives you that down feeling
... but you have to get over that. It's rough but it's a part of the
business. ... Players and coaches moved on Sunday night. We had a good
practice on Tuesday. ... The one thing we can learn is don't let one
game beat us twice. Let's don't make the mistakes we made the last game.
... Make sure we hold on and build on those things we did well."
Southern Miss has
artificial turf on Carlisle-Faulkner Field at M.M. Roberts Stadium, also
known as The Rock.
"It's called Momentum
Turf," McNeill said. " ... It's a fast surface, which I know they want
because they're a fast football team. I think we're a faster football
team than the last time we went down to Hattiesburg. I think the guys
will enjoy playing on that surface."
topped the Golden Eagles 44-43 in a wild one
at USM in 2010.
The Pirates shot
themselves in the foot with more frequency than Barney Fife in
a 48-28 home loss last season.
Southern Miss used four non-offensive touchdowns to good advantage. The
Golden Eagles had two lengthy interception returns for scores, took a
punt return to the house and blocked a punt for six.
"One of the things you
need on a championship run is luck," McNeill said. "I'm not afraid to
talk about luck. You have to be injury free. You have to have the ball
bounce your way. They definitely had it bounce their way and we caused a
lot of it ourselves."
Four Pirates played junior
college ball in Mississippi.
Linebacker Chris Baker,
receiver/returner Lance Ray, field corner Adonis Armstrong and strong
safety Chip Thompson will no doubt have some support from family and
"I imagine it's like it is
for our kids at every home game, our North Carolina kids and those from
the region," McNeill said. "Those (four) have rare moments when their
family can see them play. I know it's exciting for them. I know they
want to play well. I'm sure they want to win the football game for their
families. It'll be a nice time to see their families. That will be nice
for me to see them. I haven't seen those families since I went into
their homes. It will be good to see them on Saturday after the game."
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