Game No. 4: North Carolina 42, ECU 17
Saturday, October 2, 2010
By Denny O'Brien
ECU needs second half
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CHAPEL HILL — You can
certainly understand East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill's disappointment
following the Pirates 42-17 loss to North Carolina on Saturday. As an alum
and former Pirates player, you have to figure that a win over the Tar Heels
would have been a special moment in his inaugural season at the helm.
But a flurry of turnovers,
penalties, missed assignments and mistakes ensured that McNeill wouldn't
notch a victory over the in-state Heels. And it's difficult to identify the
most discouraging detail in this lopsided loss.
It could easily be the fact
that North Carolina, deeply entrenched in a major NCAA scandal, seemed
especially vulnerable amid the avalanche of allegations it is facing. With
each day revealing more image-smearing news, it would have seemed that the
Tar Heels were ripe for the picking.
Had the Pirates held on to
their second half lead, it also would have rubbed a little salt in those
baby blue wounds.
Or perhaps it was the
penalties — all 13 of them — that totaled 120 yards of lost real estate and
often put the Pirates in uncomfortable down-and-distance scenarios.
Considering that was supposed to be an area of emphasis during the off week,
that certainly can't sit well with ECU's first-year head coach.
Maybe it was the fact that the
ECU again jumped to a fast offensive start and led deep into the 3rd quarter
before the Tar Heels went on a furious 28-point run. Given the Pirates' new
trend of 28-3 second half deficits, that certainly can't be encouraging.
The question now remains
whether or not the Pirates can find a solution for their second half woes.
“The penalty situation, I
think when you look at it, the same thing happened at Virginia Tech,”
McNeill said about the ECU meltdown. “We had some big penalties.
“Holding penalties kill you.
When we sat down and evaluated it during the off week, the 3rd and 7's and
3rd and 6's, and even 3rd and 8's, our percentage of conversions was very
high. Anything past that, which a couple of times came from the holding
penalties, they are tough to make. I call them third and extras.”
Clearly the Pirates have
unloaded plenty of pellets into their toes. No one is debating that. But the
second half issues with which ECU is currently struggling extend far beyond
a few holding and procedure calls.
You can't help but conclude
that some of it can be traced to halftime. Because second half performances
haven't remotely resembled the Pirates' production before intermission.
Against veteran coaches who
possess BCS Automatic Qualifier talent, the Pirates now trail 56-3 in the
second half of games. That's after piling up respectable yardage and point
totals before the break, and doing a somewhat decent job on defense of
limiting opponents — at least in the first half.
“We had a pretty good first
half,” Pirates cornerback Travis Simmons said. “We were expecting to see a
lot more play-action, especially with the game so tight.
“I guess they saw that we were
a little vulnerable in the 1st half. We definitely expected to see more
pass, but they came downhill and started running it. It was definitely
It certainly looked it.
To some degree, you have to
figure that opponents the caliber of Virginia Tech and North Carolina would
have a leg up in making halftime adjustments. Both schools are led by
veteran head coaches and seasoned staffs who've been through their share of
They've been around the block
enough to pick up on an opponent's tendencies and expose areas of
vulnerability. That explains why the game plans for both the Hokies and Tar
Heels changed significantly in the second half.
On Saturday, it was almost as
if Heels coach Butch Davis brought a different team onto the field for the
third quarter. Unlike the first half when offensive coordinator John Shoop
emphasized the pass, the Tar Heels exposed the Pirates' undersized defensive
front with extra helpings of tailbacks Johnny White and Shaun Draughn.
Meanwhile the Pirates couldn't
muster much offensively outside of the 11-play, 69-yard drive that ended
with a field goal and 17-14 third quarter lead. It was all downhill after
that, as ECU could find no offensive rhythm the rest of the way.
As the Pirates jump back into
Conference USA play with a visit to Southern Miss next week, the good news
is that the caliber of talent they're facing will be significantly weaker
than both the Hokies and Heels. With regards to personnel, the Pirates could
definitely use a competitive break.
That still doesn't change the
fact that, regardless of the level of competition, ECU desperately needs a
solution for its second half struggles.
Consider it a part of the
maturation process for a first-year head coach whose top lieutenants are a
pair of first-year coordinators. How quickly they develop and adjust on the
fly will dictate how far the Pirates progress this year.
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10/03/2010 03:46:57 AM