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Game No. 6: ECU 35, Memphis 17


Game Slants
Saturday, October 15, 2011

By Denny O'Brien

Davis, Pirates exorcize their demons

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

MEMPHIS — East Carolina needed a game like this, an evening when there wasn’t a numeric ranking preceding the name of its opponent.

So did Dominique Davis, the once prolific Pirates passer who had suddenly become as embattled at quarterback as anyone in recent memory. His propensity for engineering comebacks had seemingly been replaced by a sudden inability to connect with open receivers.

Enter Memphis, the perfect paper Tigers for an ECU team riding a humbling 2-9 stretch. They were a needed welcome mat for a redeeming performance from Davis, who exorcised some recent demons with a 307-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 35-17 win that was more lopsided than the final stats.

That’s because it took an entire half for Davis and the offense to find their rhythm. But one half of solid play proved more than enough to tame the overmatched Tigers.

Davis, to his credit, remained confident throughout the week and within the early stages of the game that East Carolina would bounce back.

“I was just staying positive and excited about playing the game,” Davis said about his game week preparation. “The whole week of practice, everyone looked each other in the mirror and we figured out what we need to do to be successful. That was the main key.

“I had a bad game (against Houston). I just had to come back as the leader of the team. All I’m trying to do is overcome adversity and be as good as I can for my team.”

For most of Saturday’s game, Davis was more than just good. He engineered a 524-yard explosion by distributing the ball proficiently to eight East Carolina receivers. He demonstrated better pocket awareness, ran through his progressions, and was discerning when opportunities were there to run.

He did all this behind a patchwork offensive line that took an entire half before it finally gelled. When it did, the East Carolina offense began clicking much like it did during the first half of 2010.

Even so, what can’t be overlooked is that Memphis is among the worst teams within the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision. That’s true by almost every measure.

So it’s too soon to conclude that East Carolina has completely righted a ship that a difficult early schedule had knocked off course — or that the offense is completely back on beat.

There were enough discouraging details in the first half to think otherwise, and it briefly appeared that this again would be a game in which ECU would be unable to get out of its own way. The turnovers, penalties, drops, and missed tackles that have become an unfortunate characteristic were very much the theme before intermission.

ECU’s first half play was so sloppy that you could virtually hear the collective groan from Greenville in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The Pirates gave Memphis a 7-point freebie on Davis’s fumble at the one-yard line, and several drives were thwarted by holding calls and dropped passes.

Any attempt to mount a running game was seemingly met with a two- or three-yard loss. To say it was a frustrating display of offensive football would be overselling the Pirates’ first half productivity.

But credit East Carolina’s adjustments and the resilience of its resurgent quarterback for the second half turnaround.

“Dominique is playing with a young offensive line,” Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill said. “I wish you could be around him as much as I am. He’s still as humble as can be. The team respects him.

“He’s been voted the captain of the team unanimously (this year). He never blamed anyone, and I appreciate that from Dominique. Dominique is one of the best leaders I’ve been around in 31 years.”

That much should be evident by the senior QB's demeanor alone. If nothing else, Davis has remained steady through a turbulent storm and has not allowed the peripherals to become a distraction.

That’s the type of character you want in the huddle. And on Saturday, Davis showed why he’s still the man to lead the Pirates.

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10/16/2011 03:37:19 AM

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