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Game Center: Tulane 36, East Carolina 33 (3OT)

Oct. 5, 2013 • Mercedes-Benz Superdome • Att. 15,157 • The Season

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Game Day Slants
Saturday, October 12, 2013

By Denny O'Brien

The Big Easy too difficult for Pirates

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

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NEW ORLEANS – It’s almost a rite of passage for East Carolina to lose a game it is expected to win. Upstart Tulane added to that painful legacy Saturday with a heart-stomping 36-33 triple overtime win.

Perhaps it will prove a needed wake-up call for a team that has seemingly dozed through periods of its last two games after a convincing 55-31 victory over North Carolina two weeks ago.

The Pirates haven’t been nearly as proficient inside the red zone, and the mistakes have exceeded their margin for error. It was enough Saturday to make you wonder if ECU had become overconfident with a schedule that is far from intimidating.

Despite being a firm favorite at Tulane, the Pirates spent more than three quarters looking more the part of the underdog. The Green Wave was more aggressive and dictated the tempo with a blitzing defense that kept the Pirates on their heels.

That was especially the case on third down and in the red zone.

ECU converted only 4 of its 16 third down opportunities and also committed a series of miscues inside the 20-yard line. Too often, it settled for field goals after having first and goal. Then there was that 14-point swing off a 99-yard pick six.

“They were showing us some different looks,” East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden said about the Tulane defense. “I think we were just kind of worried too much about what they were showing us, and not just lining up and playing football.

“We were making corrections on the sideline, but to a point you’ve kind of got to just line up and play. I think we were letting what they were doing affect us too much.”

That’s an understatement.

Until Carden finally found a groove in the fourth quarter, he often looked uncertain, especially the deeper the Pirates drove into Green Wave territory. The constant threat of blitzes and the mixing of coverage kept the Pirates’ otherwise prolific QB guessing.

Much of that can be attributed Tulane’s defensive philosophy, one that has proven to give ECU fits. The Green Wave brought pressure on nearly every play, while its secondary essentially glued itself to Pirates receivers at the line of scrimmage.

The result was four sacks and six tackles for losses in the first half alone.

Credit Tulane for much of the ECU offense’s early venture into a near-comatose state. The Green Wave executed its defensive game plan with a degree of mastery that would make Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster tip his hat.

But the fact that the offense regained consciousness late and essentially did anything it wanted moving forward suggests that perhaps it was sleepwalking for much of the game.

Given the name on the opponent’s jersey, the empty cavern in which the Pirates were playing and the high-fives they’ve been getting since embarrassing UNC-Chapel Hill, to some degree you can understand why.

The sobering lesson, however, is that this team doesn’t have enough of a talent advantage to just go through the motions. It’s a lesson the ECU program has been taught many times before.

“It was a tough loss,” Pirates Coach Ruffin McNeill said. “The kids are taking it pretty hard. I was proud of the fact that we were down by ten and battled back.

"We had a chance to win at the end, but you have to make those plays.”

East Carolina didn’t make nearly enough of them during the first three quarters.

In a twisted sort of way, maybe the heartbreak it suffered in New Orleans will motivate ECU to approach each opponent as if it were a heated rival.

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10/12/2013 11:18:29 PM

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