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Pirate Notebook No. 448
Monday, October 18, 2010

Denny O'Brien

ECU growing up on 'D'

Ruffin McNeill
Brian Mitchell
Damon Magazu
(ECU SID images)

Harris Poll

For the fifth year in a row, Denny O'Brien is a member of the voting panel for the Harris Interactive College Football Poll commissioned by the Bowl Championship Series. As a service to readers of this site, O'Brien's ballot will be published in this space each Monday throughout the rest of the season.

A senior columnist for, Bonesville The Magazine and The Pirates' Chest Magazine, O'Brien was nominated to the Harris Poll panel by Conference USA. The Harris Poll is a component of the BCS Standings.

View the panel of 114 voters in the 2010 Harris Interactive College Football Poll.

Denny O'Brien's Harris Poll Ballot

(Ballot cast 10.17.10)

  1. Oregon
  2. Auburn
  3. Boise State
  4. Texas Christian
  5. Oklahoma
  6. Michigan State
  7. Wisconsin
  8. Ohio State
  9. Alabama
10. Utah
11. Stanford
12. Louisiana State
13. Nebraska
14. Arizona
15. Iowa
16. Oklahoma State
17. Florida State
18. South Carolina
19. Virginia Tech
20. Miami
21. Arkansas
22. Missouri
23. Texas
24. Mississippi State
25. West Virginia

This Week's Inaugural 2010 BCS Rankings

This Week's Harris, AP and Coaches Polls


ECU growing up on 'D'
Week #1 BCS Rankings
Harris, Associated Press & Coaches Polls
C-USA Standings, Scores, Schedule, TV
East Carolina-N.C. State Game Center Coverage
Pirates are money in $howdown with Pack
Audio: Coach Ruff Post- Game Press Conference
Kevin's Keys to the N.C. State Game
Audio: Coach Jeff Lebo Media Day Presser
Pirates glad to be back home
Pirates cramming for Russell Wilson test
Pirates growing up under fire
Audio: Coach Ruff Post- Game Press Conference

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

GREENVILLE — You had to figure there would be brighter days for the East Carolina defense, days underscored by better statistical performances and finer showings on the scoreboard.

It just didn't seem logical for it to occur against N.C. State. Not against an offense that possessed a multitude of weapons and a penchant for scoring at will.

Certainly not against a quarterback in the midst of a Heisman campaign, or against a receiving corps that is as deep and talented as any around.

It seemed more like the appropriate setting for the Wolfpack to mercilessly name its score.

Had the Wolfpack dropped 50 or 60 on its in-state rival, not many of the 50,410 who were in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium would have exited in complete shock. The fact that State produced far short of that in a thrilling 33-27 ECU win left many who were familiar with the Pirates' previous defensive struggles astonished by the sudden turnaround.

Save for maybe ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill.

“You see them growing up,” McNeill said after the biggest win in his six-game tenure. “It was something that magically couldn't happen. They could only develop through experience and repeating situations. They are doing that now.

“They are developing. The first game, we had nine new starters. We've got to remember that. We had three starters missing today. You see, and I've mentioned it before, the development of the defense can only happen through situations and experiences like today and like last week at Southern Miss.”

That East Carolina produced its best defensive effort with three key ingredients missing from the lineup is a testament to how much the Pirates have matured through the first half of the season. The defense that often looked out of sorts and unsure about positioning, apparently has grown more comfortable in defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell's aggressive system.

The Pirates clearly took a significant step forward last week after spotting Southern Miss 20 points in the opening quarter. They added another layer to that foundation by holding a State offense to its lowest point total to date.

And, for the most part, the Pirates limited the big play. Except for a couple of long distance connections, you didn't see too many Pack receivers wandering uncovered behind the secondary.

Those short underneath routes that had routinely burned the ECU linebackers earlier this year were often met with thunderous hits and harmless four-yard gains.

The Pirates performed well enough to disguise a 322-yard passing effort by Russell Wilson, largely because they made him incredibly inefficient. Credit that to a solid defensive plan tailored to disguising coverages and keeping Wilson in the pocket, where he often looked uncomfortable during a three-interception day.

“We did a good job of trying to mix up coverages,” McNeill said. “With an experienced quarterback, the rule of thumb is you blitz the young guy and defend the veteran.

“He's the veteran. So, with a veteran you have to mix coverages, and you also have to blend some blitzes, which Brian (Mitchell) did.”

Against the Pack, Mitchell threw man and zone coverage packages at Wilson in an effort to keep him guessing. And on occasions when he called for a blitz it provided just enough pressure to cause discomfort for State's celebrated quarterback.

It was altogether impressive when you consider this is still a defense minus nine starters from last season's unit and with three regulars either suspended or on the mend. The attrition left a thin and green defense even more depleted and less experienced at key positions on the field.

To put it in proper perspective, the game-clinching interception was snagged by a freshman first-time starter who saw his first significant action last week. Damon Magazu is so new to the routine of college football that he was unsure during postgame interviews about which questions he could answer without “giving our secrets away.”

Magazu and his teammates are definitely guilty of revealing the secret that they are better than we thought. Just when when many of us left the East Carolina defense for dead, it came to life with a solid effort against an offense most figured would bully it around.

East Carolina's young defense grew up a little on Saturday. And it's largely the reason for the Pirates' victory over N.C. State.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

10/25/2010 03:03 AM

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