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Pirate Notebook No. 480
Monday, November 7, 2011

Denny O'Brien

Defense no longer the issue

Brian Mitchell
(ECU SID image)

Harris BCS Poll

For the sixth year in a row, columnist Denny O'Brien is a member of the voting panel for the Harris Interactive College Football Poll commissioned by the Bowl Championship Series. O'Brien was nominated to the panel by Conference USA. His weekly ballot will be published in this space each Monday throughout the season.

The Harris Poll is a component of the BCS Standings. O'Brien's ballot below was filed in conjunction with this week's Harris BCS Poll.

Denny O'Brien's Harris Poll Ballot

[Ballot filed 11.06.11]

(Conference USA teams and ECU opponents highlighted in yellow.)

  1. LSU
  2. Oklahoma State
  3. Stanford
  4. Alabama
  5. Boise State
  6. Oregon
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Arkansas
  9. Houston
10. Clemson
11. Virginia Tech
12. Penn State
13. South Carolina
14. Georgia
15. Kansas State
16. Nebraska
17. Michigan State
18. Wisconsin
19. Texas
20. Southern Miss
21. Auburn
22. Georgia Tech
23. Ohio State
24. Michigan
25. Cincinnati

BCS Standings

Harris/AP/Coaches Polls

Realignment Articles


Defense no longer the issue
BCS Standings
Harris/AP/Coaches Polls
ECU all in for C-USA showdown
On to the make or break month of November

C-USA Standings

(Through games of 11.05.11)

East Division







West Division







Scoreboard & Schedule

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

It’s too bad Conference USA doesn’t annually recognize the league’s top assistant. If it did, East Carolina defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell would be a top candidate in 2011.

Considering the Pirates’ defensive improvement this season compared to last, it would be difficult to find someone more deserving of such an honor. Under Mitchell’s guidance, East Carolina has moved from 120th nationally in total defense last season to 49th following the Pirates’ Saturday loss to Southern Miss.

No one could have predicted that much of a jump following a series of humbling losses to close out the 2010 campaign. Especially when each one was characterized by record-setting performances by offenses that regularly gashed the ECU defense for 60- and 70-yard gains.

The difference this season certainly can be attributed to an upgrade in defensive personnel and less attrition on the injury report. But credit also goes to the adoption of a more aggressive defensive philosophy that has been embraced by the ECU defenders.

“I think it is the attitude,” Pirates linebacker Jeremy Grove said about the Pirates’ improvement. “Throughout the week, even at practice, we’re getting after it.

“We’ve got some leaders on defense that have stepped up. We’ve been getting after it. But as a defense we could have done something (Saturday). We could have gotten a turnover or a big play.

"It’s a loss as a team and not one side of the ball.”

Maybe so, but where the Pirates literally are dropping the ball this season are when the defense is taking a breather. ECU ranks dead last nationally in turnovers committed (27), and is 119th in punt return coverage.

And if you’re looking for an explanation behind some of the high point totals by Pirates’ opponents, just consider this: ECU has surrendered nine touchdowns this year without its defense on the field. That statistic is considerably higher if you factor the numerous turnovers deep inside ECU territory that have led to scores.

Meanwhile, the defense that last year could never get off the field now routinely forces punts. Even high-scoring Southern Miss converted only three of its ten third down attempts in a 48-28 Pirates’ loss.

With three games remaining, the Pirates need to win two just to become bowl eligible. After nine games, we now have enough evidence to conclude that ECU has a defense more than sufficient to accomplish that goal.

Now the pressing question is whether or not the Pirates can put it together enough on offense and special teams to get two wins against a trio of mediocre opponents.

Miscues explained

At first glance, Phil McNaughton’s first punt looked flat. The low line drive kick was fielded by Tracy Lampley at the Southern Miss 40 and returned 60 yards untouched for the score.

But according to McNaughton, the kick was too high and did not have the intended angle that was called by the ECU coaching staff.

“I got a little too much air under the ball,” McNaughton said. “That’s the type of kick that is supposed to be a non-returnable kick because it is going to hit the ground and roll.

“That was just some poor execution. I just needed a little bit more to the side and a little bit more roll on the ball and not caught.”

McNaughton’s second attempt also resulted in a Golden Eagles score, only this time he was unable to boot the ball at all. Southern Miss broke through the Pirates’ protection to block the kick and then scoop and score.

“The snap was a little bit high, but I’ve still got to get the ball off quickly when that happens,” McNaughton said. “They sort of brought a few people from the right side. As soon as I caught the ball, I knew that they were right there.

“They have shown from time to time (on film) that they do come after kicks, and it looks quite similar. They moved a few people around and shifted.”

Filling the void

Reese Wiggins had some serious shoes to fill Saturday, replacing injured Lance Lewis at one of the Pirates’ outside receiver positions.

He responded with a four-catch, 85-yard effort. His biggest was a 72-yard touchdown dash off a receiver screen on the Pirates’ second play.

“We run that play every day,” Wiggins said. “It’s one of our main plays. The scout team gave a good look in practice as to the types of looks (Southern Miss) was going to give us. All I had to do was catch the ball, stem the safety in there, and hit the outside.

"I’m always joking around that if I get out in the open, I’m not going to get caught. As soon as I saw the safety coming at an angle, I knew I could beat (him).”

Wiggins, just a sophomore, will be counted on heavily with Lewis’s availability for the remainder of the season in doubt. Combined with freshmen Justin Hardy and Danny Webster, the future is bright for ECU at receiver.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

11/14/2011 01:00 AM

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