Bonesville: The Authoritative Independent Voice of East Carolina
Daily News & Features from East Carolina, Conference USA and Beyond

Mobile Alpha Roundup Daily Beat Recruiting The Seasons Multimedia Historical Data Pirate Time Machine SportByte™ Weather





Put your ad message in front of 1,000's and 1,000's of Pirate fans. Call 252.637.2944 for flexible options & rates.




Game No. 9: Southern Miss 48, ECU 28


Game Slants
Saturday, November 5, 2011

By Denny O'Brien

Lapses again sidetrack East Carolina

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

GREENVILLE — A familiar storyline unfolded in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Saturday, one that has become all too common during the season's first nine games. And once again it was underscored by turnovers and mental miscues.

Against No. 25 Southern Miss, a fast start by the East Carolina offense was offset by a marathon of mistakes that sent the Pirates reeling to a 48-28 defeat.

Many of the gaffes occurred on what Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill often refers to as the third side of the ball, an inference he often uses to emphasize the importance he places on special teams.

And it was there where ECU had a couple of its more crippling meltdowns against the Golden Eagles, the type from which teams rarely recover. Two breakdowns by the Pirates’ punting unit — a TD off a return and a scoop and score following a blocked kick — were sandwiched between two pick sixes to give Southern Miss a commanding 1st half lead and a red carpet to the Conference USA East Division crown.

To label this just another discouraging performance would understate the apparent pattern into which the Pirates have fallen: Against capable opponents, the Pirates unload just as many bullets into their feet as the do into their opposition.

“The first half, we had mishaps, four that led to touchdowns,” McNeill said. “I thought that was the deal breaker. To have four touchdowns with our defense not on the field — the defense was on the sidelines — I thought that was tough. That was one of the major parts of the game.

"We just had too many happen to us in a game of this significance to happen to win. You can’t do that against many teams, and not good teams like Southern Miss.”

The Pirates already have proven that much. They did so in each of their previous four losses, with Virginia Tech providing the lone exception.

In each case, talented, experienced clubs successfully exploited ECU’s inexperience and areas of weakness. The Golden Eagles were able to do the same by once again exposing the numerous flaws that have plagued the Pirates since the season opener.

Like, for example, the Pirates’ lack of a consistent kicking game, ranging from erratic results from their punters to unreliable coverage. And the lack of a dependable running game to keep defenses honest.

Much of the latter can be attributed to the stockpile of injuries that have taken siege over the Pirates’ offensive front. ECU is so razor thin there that McNeill felt his best unit was one that included Grant Harner playing right tackle on the equivalent of half a leg.

Despite those shortcomings, the Pirates still had success moving the chains Saturday. ECU’s final statistical tally — it outgained Southern Miss 420-299 — even looked as if the Pirates should have been on the celebratory end of the 48-28 final score.

That is, unless you took a deeper look and noticed the turnovers.

“The mishaps and the turnovers — we’re beating ourselves,” McNeill said. “It’s not anything they are doing. It’s something that we are not doing. I have to get that corrected.

"I told them to stay the course, stay accountable to one another, and keep fighting. We were beating ourselves. It wasn’t anything that Southern Miss was doing.”

Maybe not, but Southern Miss certainly demonstrated a willingness to accept the Pirates’ generosity.

If there is one positive conclusion to draw from yet another missed opportunity, it’s that the Pirates are no longer a punch line defensively. The revamped 3-4 defense is far more active and athletic, and it has proven capable of doing something it rarely did in 2010, which is register stops.

By this point last season, opponents were regularly gashing East Carolina with 500- and 600-hundred yard efforts. Navy and Rice sent humbling messages with hoops-like production on the scoreboard.

With three games remaining and two wins needed for bowl eligibility, there is more than enough evidence to suggest that East Carolina possesses a defense capable of meeting that goal. That’s not something anyone would have predicted back in August.

The more pressing questions facing the Pirates are whether or not they can gain some offensive consistency and special teams sufficiency. Clearly, ECU has run into a shortage on both.

Send a message to Denny O'Brien.

Dig into Denny O'Brien's Bonesville archives.

11/06/2011 02:30:15 AM

©2001-2002-2003-2004-2005-2006-2007-2008-2009-2010-2011-2012-2013 All rights reserved.
Articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files and other content originated on this site are the proprietary property of
None of the articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files or other content originated on this site may be reproduced without written permission.
This site is not affiliated with East Carolina University. View's Privacy Policy. Advertising contact: 252-349-3280; Editorial contact:; 252-444-1905.