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Pirate Notebook No. 452
Monday, November 15, 2010

Denny O'Brien

Defense delivered at crunch time

Harris BCS 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 11.14.10)

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

Weekly BCS Standings

Harris, AP, Coaches Polls



Defense delivered at crunch time
Week #5 BCS Rankings
Harris, AP, Coaches Polls
C-USA Standings, Scores, Schedule, TV
Help is on the way for defensive line
Lebo era launches on winning note
ECU 2010-11 Basketball Schedule
ECU basketball recruiting thumbnails
ECU-UAB Game Center
Davis in league of his own
Audio: Coach Ruff Post- Game Press Conference
Kevin's Keys to the Game

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

The East Carolina defense has been the target of immense criticism this season, especially during the past three weeks.

Considering the yardage and point totals the Pirates have surrendered during that stretch, you can certainly understand the frustration from fans. After yielding 49, 76, and 42 points in succession, it has to be weighing on the ECU defensive staff as well.

But when the Pirates needed a pair of stops against UAB last Thursday night, the defense delivered. It was punctuated with an interception by Bradley Jacobs deep in ECU territory with under a minute remaining, sealing the Pirates’ sixth win of the season.

“They did a good job there towards the end,” Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill said about the defense. “They made the play when we had to make it.

“It was a big play by Bradley at the end. But there were some other big plays in there to break serve and give our offense a chance. The defense did a good job getting the ball back to them to give us a lead.”

One of the biggest and most overlooked moments of the shootout victory occurred with about eight minutes remaining and the Pirates trailing 42-40. That’s when freshman defensive end Derrell Johnson sacked UAB quarterback Bryan Ellis on the Blazers’ 21-yard line.

It was the catalyst behind a three-and-out, setting up a long punt return by Dwayne Harris. The Pirates would soon claim the lead and never relinquish it.

When you consider the number of defensive departures from last season, along with the mounting injuries over the last several weeks, you can understand, at least to some degree, why the ECU defense has regressed since the Marshall game. With so many visiting the infirmary recently, defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell and his staff have had no choice but to dig deep into the depth chart to fill the void.

That has meant more repetitions for players like Ty Holmes, Jimmy Booth, Cliff Perryman, A.J. Johnson and Lee Pegues, who had his redshirt removed against Navy.

With only two regular season games remaining, it’s unlikely that this ECU defense will remotely resemble the one to which fans grew accustomed during the 2008 and ’09 seasons. But if it can build on Thursday night’s fourth quarter, perhaps it can be a defense that gets enough stops for the Pirates’ potent offense down the stretch.

Comeback kid

After a pair of costly fumbles in the third quarter of the loss to Navy, running back Jonathan Williams was badly in need of redemption. He delivered that with 291 total yards against the Blazers, which included 82 yards rushing and 115 receiving.

Pretty good for a guy still ailing from a rib injury.

“He’s still hurt,” McNeill said. “He was hurt last week, and we were not able to get much contact on him during the week.

“I was proud of him. We had to give Dwayne a break on kickoff returns because of last week (when Harris suffered a back contusion against Navy). He stepped up and said, ‘Coach, whatever you want me to do.’ We threw him the football and he caught it well. He ran the ball well and made some big catches and big runs for us.”

None was bigger than the 77-yard reception with under a minute remaining in the first half. That set up his nine-yard scoring run that pushed the Pirates ahead at the break.

Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley wasn’t surprised by the quick comeback. With Williams, Riley says that gameday performance is often a reflection of how he has practiced during the week.

“He’s practiced a lot better,” Riley said. “That’s something we really stress with him, is practicing great. I’ve been talking to him about camp. In camp, you can ask anybody in this group, he was unstoppable. He was practicing hard every single day.

"He’s one of those guys that it really carries over. How he practices, you can mark it down, that’s how he’s going to play.”

‘Tough as nails’

East Carolina’s first offensive play of the second half provided perhaps the scariest moment of the season. Quarterback Dominique Davis called his own number, running around his left end where he was tackled from behind and landed awkwardly on his left shoulder.

The result was a trip to the locker room and the prognosis that he had sprained his AC joint. But that didn’t stop him from returning on the Pirates’ next possession.

“He’s tough,” Riley said. “He’s tough as nails.

“I knew if anything wasn’t too seriously wrong, he’d be back. Dominique’s tough. You know what you are going to get out of him. He’s always going to be ready to play every day. It’s been taken away from him, and he knows how precious this is. Every play could be your last.”

Fortunately for the Pirates, that wasn’t the case for Davis.

Bowl eligible, but not a lock

With the win over UAB, the Pirates met another major milestone. For the fifth straight year, ECU is bowl eligible.

Considering the expectations entering the season, that’s a pretty significant accomplishment. After losing 29 players from consecutive Conference USA championship teams, few believed the Pirates would be postseason contenders this year.

Shows what they know.

“It’s good to be bowl eligible,” McNeill said. “I think it’s a great reward for our team, our coaches and families, our administration, and our fans. All bowls are great.

“Now we just keep playing for placement of bowls. That’s how it’s worked everywhere else I’ve been. We’ll be a team that any bowl we’ll be happy to get. But right now we have a lot of work left to do.”

And while the Pirates are officially bowl eligible, it is important to note that they aren’t yet locked into one of C-USA’s six bowl slots.

C-USA currently has five bowl eligible teams, and chances are that it will have at least seven with six victories at the end of the season. That means the Pirates need to win at least one of their last two to solidify themselves as one of the league’s bowl participants.

By rule, seven-win teams must be selected ahead of those with only six. With a win at Rice, ECU will be a virtual lock to make its fifth-consecutive visit to the postseason.

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Denny O'Brien Archives

11/15/2010 03:51 AM

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