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Pirate Notebook No. 459
Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Denny O'Brien

Defense out to save face against Terps

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON, DC — Since its 45-38 overtime loss to Southern Methodist Thanksgiving weekend, East Carolina has had a month to smooth some of the chinks in its defensive armor.

Given the Pirates' performance throughout much of the 2010 season, Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill believes the month-long layoff provided a much needed reprieve for his scrutinized defense. It offered defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell the opportunity to refocus on fundamentals, as well as extra time to prepare for a powerful Maryland offense.

“I thought the layoff was very good for our defense,” McNeill said. “We had a chance to get our focus back and get back into the basics again. We had time to work on East Carolina first before diving into Maryland's packages and schemes. The kids have worked hard and the coaches have, too.

"The layoff was probably a benefit for us. It gave us a chance to regroup, and it gave us a longer time to look at Maryland.”

ECU certainly needed that time to gather itself. After an impressive showing in a 37-10 victory over Marshall, the Pirates' defense experienced an all-out collapse, surrendering 42 or more points in each of its five remaining games.

Navy and Rice provided exclamation points with 76- and 62-point efforts, respectively, against the Pirates.

Maryland enters today's game averaging 31 points per contest against a very difficult schedule. Much of the Terps' offensive success can be attributed to the passing battery of quarterback Danny O'Brien and superstar receiver Torrey Smith.

Smith finished the season with 1,045 yards and is considered a major NFL prospect.

“We have to make sure we have an eye on him,” McNeill said. “There are packages we have where we can put two guys on him if we have to.

“He's such a great player. It's just like someone trying to stop Dwayne Harris. It's hard to stop those guys. We just have a to try to contain him.”

N.C. State certainly couldn't do that, which cost the Wolfpack a spot in the ACC Championship game earlier this month. In a 38-31 Terps win, Smith snagged 14 passes for 224 yards and four scores.

A duplicate effort could be lethal for an ECU defense that has surrendered its share of big plays this year. With good size and speed, Smith will certainly present some major matchup problems to a Pirates defense that uses a lot of man coverage packages.

While much of the attention will be paid to the passing combo of O'Brien and Smith, the Pirates certainly can't afford to ignore the Maryland ground attack. The Terps might not boast overwhelming rushing statistics — they are averaging 124 yards per outing — but they have very capable backs.

Terps coach Ralph Friedgen, who is coaching his final game for his alma mater, has used a by-committee approach at running back this year. Each of the Terps rushers tips the scales at 205 pounds or better, and the Pirates have struggled this season against big, physical backs.

Junior Davin Meggett, son of former NFL standout Dave Meggett, has been the most effective of Maryland's ball carriers this year. At 5'9”, he has a low center of gravity that can present problems to a defense that has struggled with the basic fundamentals of tackling.

Today offers one final opportunity for ECU to demonstrate improvement on that and other areas that have plagued the team's defense this year.

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12/29/2010 08:32 AM

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