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Game No. 3: East Carolina 28, UAB 23


Game Slants
Saturday, September 24, 2011

By Denny O'Brien

Pirates prevail in spite of themselves

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

GREENVILLE — After opening with consecutive challenges against members of the national Top 15, East Carolina badly needed a competitive breather.

It’s a good thing the Pirates faced Alabama-Birmingham Saturday instead of North Carolina, Houston, or even Tulane. Considering the careless manner with which ECU handled the ball, almost any other opponent would have departed Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with a win.

That’s generally what occurs when you commit a school record seven turnovers. If a drop at the goal line by UAB running back Pat Shed had not occurred, the outmanned Blazers likely would have escaped Greenville with an upset victory.

Instead the Pirates squeaked by 28-23, avoiding an 0-3 hole that would have put the young season on early life support.

“I’m proud of my team for being about to do that,” Pirates head coach McNeill said. “A lot of teams would not be able to withstand that and have the competitive desire to do that.

“The seven turnovers, I was very disappointed in that. We talk about taking care of the ball. But to be able to overcome that and to win the football game, I’ll be able to use that to our advantage.”

That’s certainly one way of looking at it. Perhaps the moral to this imperfect performance is how good the Pirates can potentially be if they just tidy up some of the details.

Or if they demonstrate the ability to focus for an entire 60 minutes. Needless to say that has been an issue since the season opener against South Carolina when the Pirates performed with brilliance in spurts, while seemingly losing focus during others.

That certainly seemed to be the case Saturday against UAB. The Pirates piled 542 yards of offense on a UAB defense that showed very little resistance, though it was more than capable of taking the freebies ECU was distributing.

Like quarterback Dominique Davis’s first interception of the game, which fittingly occurred on his first pass attempt. Instead of hitting Lance Lewis, who was alone over the middle, Davis floated one into double coverage and into the hands of Blazers defensive back Chase Daniel.

The fumble by Michael Dobson as he was crossing the end zone is another example of ECU’s near-fatal generosity. Instead of pushing the Pirates’ lead to a comfortable 35-17 margin, it gave the Blazers new life.

There were several other examples — five to be exact — of ECU blunders that killed otherwise promising drives. The net result was the Pirates sweating out an afternoon on which they should have scored at least 50.

“We can fix them, and we will,” Davis said with confidence. “We will be a lot more polished with our turnovers. We’ll be fine. We had seven turnovers and still won the game. You don’t really see that often.

"It’s exciting to see how great we can be.”

There is no question that ECU did provide a glimpse of the type of offense they could harness this season. The Pirates amassed over five football fields of real estate and were never forced to punt.

Davis, aside from three costly misfires, was his normal accurate self, picking apart the Blazers defense and distributing the ball to eight different receivers. It certainly helped that his targets were able to find plenty of open space in the UAB secondary.

In the process, the Pirates also discovered offensive balance in the form of a running game capable of moving the chains. Credit much of that to an offensive front that opened plenty of holes for running back Reggie Bullock to rush for 169 yards on 24 carries.

The Pirates needed each one of them to slip by the Blazers Saturday. Perhaps that would not have been the case had ECU taken better care of the ball.

Considering the Pirates now have 13 turnovers on the year, that’s obviously not an aspect of the game they’ve mastered. And if they literally don’t get a better handle on that, it’s hard to envision them making it to a bowl.

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09/25/2011 05:31:19 AM

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