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(ECU SID image)
With any young team, some degree of
growing pains are to be expected. East Carolina is certainly no
exception to that rule.
The Pirates, now 2-1 after their 49-27
loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday, certainly felt their share of pain in
Lane Stadium, especially after leading much of the game before a
28-point second half barrage by the Hokies.
The moral to the story — aside from the
fact that we shouldn't mock the Vegas spread setters — is that ECU has
yet to piece together a complete game. Periodic lulls have become a
glaring trend for an inexperienced team that is only three games into
its new offensive and defensive schemes.
“Another part of the growth is teaching
them the parts of the game,” Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill said. “We
talked about it last week. First quarter is very important. I thought we
did a good job with that.
“Right before the half, I thought we
were OK. There's another part of the game, right after the half. Very
important. Then the fourth quarter. I wish I could rush it or do
something magic or make it hurry up with the group, but that's a part of
the game that you have to learn. That's part of the growth that we have
There is no question that quarterback
Dominique Davis and the rest of the offense have been relatively quick
studies of the new Air Raid offense. Thus far the Pirates are averaging
42 points and 441 yards, and at times have demonstrated the ability to
score at will.
But if you break down the how and when
behind the Pirates' scoring totals to date, you'll notice some pretty
ECU is outscoring its opponents 48-17 in
the first quarter, but is getting outscored in the remaining three. And
if you had to pick one period as the Pirates' kryptonite, it would be
the 3rd, where opponents own a 34-17 advantage.
Against Virginia Tech, it looked as if
ECU might buck that trend after forcing a fumble on the Hokies' opening
possession and eventually moving to the 13-yard line. A rash of
penalties drop-kicked the Pirates into a 2nd and 40 scenario, forcing
them to settle for a field goal.
The ECU offense never truly recovered
from that series, as it managed only 18 yards in the 3rd quarter and
only 83 for the second half.
“I thought they blitzed a little more,”
McNeill said. “Giving them long yardage is an advantage to them
defensively. Maybe the penalties helped them a little bit, got us in
situations where it was just miraculous to make the first down.
“I thought they just did a good job of
executing the defense better in the second half than they did in the
first half. They didn't change much. Bud (Foster) does what he does.”
While Hokies defensive coordinator Bud
Foster might not have adjusted much, he certainly did enough to wreak
havoc on an ECU offense that piled up 24 points and 278 yards in the 1st
half. Whatever those tweaks were, they were successful in applying more
pressure on Davis and preventing Pirates receivers from finding open
The Pirates had no answer for Tech's
furious second half rush. And with an open week now separating the
Pirates from their clash with North Carolina, McNeill and his staff
should have ample time to diagnose their 3rd quarter concerns.
Are opposing coaches simply making
better adjustments during the half? Is the ECU staff out-thinking itself
and abandoning certain aspects of the game plan after intermission?
Or is at as simple as the youth
throughout the Pirates' depth chart simply failing to grasp the concept
of maintaining focus for an entire game?
All are fair questions to ask at such an
early stage of the season. And given the Pirates' razor-thin margin for
error, discovering the right solution could mean the difference between
an 8-4 and 5-7 finish this fall.
With the Pirates' three biggest rivals —
North Carolina, Southern Miss, and N.C. State — next on the slate, the
bye week couldn't have been positioned more perfectly. It's also good
that ECU's areas of weakness have been heavily exposed so early during
the 2010 campaign.
The challenge now is for the ECU staff
to prescribe the necessary remedy and demonstrate the ability to adjust
on the fly.