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Pirate Notebook No. 498
Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien

Riley kept Cougars guessing

Harris Poll

For the seventh 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 rest of 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 Poll.

Denny O'Brien's Harris Poll Ballot

Ballot filed 11.04.12

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

  1. Alabama
  2. Kansas State
  3. Oregon
  4. Notre Dame
  5. Georgia
  6. Florida
  7. Louisiana State
  8. Florida State
  9. Clemson
10. Louisville
11. South Carolina
12. Texas A&M
13. Oregon State
14. Oklahoma
15. Stanford
16. Louisiana Tech
17. UCLA
18. Nebraska
19. Southern Cal
20. Northern Illinois
21. Mississippi State
22. Northwestern
23. Texas
24. Toledo
25. Michigan

This Week's Bowl Championship Series Standings

This Week's Harris, AP & Coaches Polls


Riley kept Cougars guessing
Denny O'Brien's Harris BCS Poll Ballot
This Week's BCS Standings
This Week's Harris, AP & USA Today Polls
Conference USA Players of the Week
Spied from the Crow's Nest
Web Headlines Roundup
Heart, not legacy, swayed Jones to ECU
Game Center: ECU 48, Houston 28
Inside Game Day: Chips down, Pirates come through
Game Slants: McNeill, Pirates answer doubters
Game Day Photo Gallery
Audio: Coach Ruff Post-game
Greg's Game Day Breakdown
This Week in College Football History
Game Day Radar Loop & Weather Notes
Kevin's Keys to the Game
ECU Football Schedule
Year-by-Year Recruiting

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

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There have been some explosive offensive outputs since Lincoln Riley became East Carolina’s offensive coordinator. There have been a few duds, too.

East Carolina’s 48-28 Saturday victory over Houston can certainly be categorized in the former, thanks to a 550-yard outburst that was paced by a balanced attack.

If you had to evaluate Riley’s overall plan and play calling against the Cougars, you would have to qualify it as one of his best.

With ECU in desperate need of a bounce back performance Saturday, Riley more than made sure that the offense did its part. He did so with a deliberate balance of passes and runs, keeping the Cougars off balance from the opening snap.

The result was a well-oiled ECU offense that toyed with the Houston defense and muzzled Riley’s critics.

When McNeill was hired and brought Riley to Greenville, it was almost universally assumed that the Air Raid attack would routinely have 40-point, 500-yard afternoons. Looking back, that was an unfair expectation, and to some degree it explains the level of criticism that has been directed his way.

In most games against Conference USA-caliber competition, the offense has delivered. In those against BCS AQ competition, the personnel gap has proven too wide to overcome.

When Riley was at Texas Tech, he and his offensive colleagues had to depend on the pass-heavy approach largely because the Red Raiders couldn’t attract the personnel to compete in the trenches. As a result, they spent years targeting players that fit well within their unique adaptation of the spread and plotted their course almost exclusively through the air.

That’s hardly the case at East Carolina, which has always matched well physically with its conference brethren. So credit Riley for slowly evolving the offense to include more creativity with the addition of multiple sets to the offensive style in which he was raised.

We witnessed plenty of that against Houston, with a healthy mix of formations. There were two backs, no backs, two tight ends, pistol formation, and five receiver sets. There were rollouts, play action calls, reverses, and several helpings of zone reads.

All of that is not a collective part of the traditional Air Raid that Mike Leach developed. But Riley has wisely adjusted to showcase the strengths of East Carolina’s offensive personnel instead of completely selling out to Air Raid philosophies regardless of the cost.

The Houston defense wasn’t an imposing bunch coming into Saturday. Riley made it look even worse by demonstrating the diversity of his offense.

Improv QB

The value of a mobile quarterback can’t be understated in college football. It’s become almost mandatory with the influence spread offense.

It’s now a vital element to East Carolina’s offensive success, especially when the pass protection breaks down, forcing Shane Carden to flee the pocket and keep plays alive.

That sometimes results in him tucking and running for large chunks of yardage. And it sometimes ends with the Pirates’ quarterback finding a receiver running freely downfield.

In either case, Carden has proven capable of delivering big plays amid pressure.

“I think I enjoy that part of the game a little bit,” Carden said. “When the protection breaks down and I scramble out, our offense is ready for that.

“We practice that. It’s a drill of ours and our receivers know what to do. Sometimes the defense really doesn’t.

"I was on the scout team for two years, and a lot of times with that you kind of have to get out of the pocket and just make something happen. That’s kind of where that came from.”

The Pirates could surely use more of that moving forward. Carden is quickly proving himself a master while on the run.

Cooper still growing

At times, it’s hard to believe that this season is Vintavious Cooper’s first playing running back. On other occasions, it isn’t.

The former junior college quarterback has quickly mastered his duties as a ball carrier in the Pirates’ spread offense, to which his 891 yards attests. Even more impressive is the fact that Cooper didn’t become ECU’s featured runner until the fifth game of the season, a 28-18 victory over Texas-El Paso.

But passing situations have proven challenging at times, especially when Cooper’s role is pass protection.

“I’m trying to improve my football savvy,” Cooper said. “I’m studying film and still trying to get better at pass protection. That’s the biggest adjustment. Playing quarterback all my life and jumping into the running back position in such a short time, that’s a pretty hard transition to make.

"Stepping on the field and trying to catch guys that are running at you at 250-plus pounds, is something that you have to work hard and get used to.”

At this stage, avoiding tacklers is hardly an issue for Cooper. If he can demonstrate the proficiency for deflecting them out of Carden’s way, he’ll bring a complete package to his new position.

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11/05/2012 08:21 PM

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