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Game No. 8: ECU 34, Tulane 13


Game Slants
Saturday, October 29, 2011

By Denny O'Brien

Davis steps up when young Bucs stumble

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

GREENVILLE — The collective mood inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium early Saturday evening wasn’t what you might expect following an East Carolina victory.

Throughout the Pirates’ 34-13 win over Tulane, there were as many groans from an emotionally flat homecoming crowd as there were high fives and chest bumps. It was clear the 49,410 who paid to see it were expecting a little more inspiration for their purchase.

Consider that the carryover effect of extracting some emotionally-charged redemption from a good opponent on the road. Given how ECU beat Navy last week — and the ease with which the offense carved through the Midshipmen — some were expecting the Pirates to blow past Tulane on momentum alone.

But in the general ebb and flow that seemingly dictates college football, that’s easier said than done. Especially for a team with as much youth and inexperience throughout the depth chart as ECU.

If there is one conclusion that can be drawn from a relatively easy, yet admittedly uninspiring win, it’s that ECU’s struggles with inconsistency can be directly attributed to its young roster. The Pirates simply haven’t developed the mentality and focus required for 60 minutes of solid football.

At times during the first half, the Pirates looked a lot like the bunch that stumbled to a 1-4 start. They were able to move the ball offensively, but several drives were stalled by self-inflicted wounds.

The ECU offensive front that performed so brilliantly against Navy took a small step back. Protection miscues and procedure penalties kept the Pirates from extending drives, and the inability to maintain consistency within the running game led to field goals instead of touchdowns.

It reached a point where starting quarterback Dominique Davis, a senior, essentially had to take charge.

“Of course, I did,” Davis said. “But anyone can step up and give a spark to the offense. I was just that guy today. I was just using my feet to get first downs here and there just to give us a spark. We just stayed the course.”

Much of that can be attributed to an ECU defense that shifted into lockdown mode. Despite a couple of turnovers and shanked punts, the defense bailed the Pirates out on more occasions than one.

Like the time it limited the Green Wave to a field goal after a Mike Price fumble was returned to the East Carolina five-yard line. And when Damon Magazu intercepted a pass at the ECU 30 to nullify an early third quarter threat from Tulane.

“I think the main thing, and I know that I keep saying this and repeating myself, but we run to the ball,” Magazu said. “Coach (Jeff Connors) has gotten us in great position, both he and his staff.

“By the end of the game, we aren’t even that tired because we are in such good shape. We just run to the ball.”

Pirates defensive back Derek Blacknall certainly did on the Green Wave’s first possession of the 2nd quarter. He drilled Wilson Van Hooser for a six yard loss and injected some much-needed emotion into his defensive teammates and a somewhat muted crowd.

From there, this improving East Carolina defense didn’t let up, limiting the Wave to only 114 yards in the 2nd half and 266 for the game. The closest Tulane got to pay dirt was the East Carolina 35 during a second half shutout by the Pirates.

But while the defense kept Tulane stymied most of the night, the offense struggled to maintain rhythm. Though it piled up 461 yards and a respectable 34 points, it was unable to deliver the final blow until late.

That again can be attributed to youth.

It’s clear that buried beneath the numerous turnovers and penalties East Carolina has made this year, there is a good, young team under construction. And if they find a way to beat Southern Miss next week, you can consider the Pirates’ progression ahead of schedule.

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10/30/2011 03:36:56 AM

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