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Game Center: Louisiana-Lafayette 43, East Carolina 34

Dec. 22, 2012 | Mercedes-Benz Superdome | Attendance: 48,828 | The Season

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Game Slants
Saturday, December 22, 2012

By Denny O'Brien

Defense needs overhaul

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

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NEW ORLEANS — If East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill needed a reminder of his program’s most pressing need, he got a sobering one Saturday.

It came in the form of a Louisiana-Lafayette offense that thoroughly worked his defense over in a 43-34 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl loss, much like many of the Pirates’ opponents did during the regular season.

Truthfully, any belief that ECU would suddenly make a defensive about face in four weeks was unrealistic. There were simply too many issues in need of patching to possibly contain within a month.

And Ragin’ Cajuns Coach Mark Hudspeth knew the scouting report.

“Obviously, when you watch film, you always think there’s a couple of things that you can try to do that you want to go to,” Hudspeth said. “We thought we could throw the deep ball and get behind them.

“We felt like we could run the football. We did get a good push. The zone read was working really (well) with Terrance (Broadway). And then in the passing game we thought we could get behind them for a play or two.”

It seemed like ten or 11. And when you add all 77 offensive plays together, ULL finished with an impressive — but not surprising — 591 yards.

Many of them came from Cajuns quarterback Terrance Broadway, who threw for 316 yards and rushed for 108 more. He completed passes to nine different receivers, many of whom were given five and six-yard cushions.

When the Cajuns ran the zone read, it was often met with confusion by a Pirates defense that had difficulty following the ball. That led to several long gains by Broadway and by running back Alonzo Harris, who finished with 120 yards and two scores.

You might say that ULL’s balanced attack was the perfect poison for ECU. Then again, almost any offense the Pirates faced this season was.

During the course of the 2012 season, there wasn’t an offensive style the Pirates didn’t face. Be it one of the many variations of the spread or the triple option, there hasn’t been much the Pirates’ 3-4 schemes have been able to stop.

“It’s always a work in progress,” McNeill said. “I think you’ve seen the benefits to going to the 3-4. I think you see the kids really understanding their role within the defense. I like the way the defense has installed and is advancing.

"It could be better and should be better once the offseason begins. Because now they will have heard the same calls and faced the same looks over again. I’m pleased with the way we are heading. We’ll keep looking and evaluating and see how we can make it better.”

When asked, McNeill was wise to not directly address the status of defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell. Emotions are never a good driving force for making decisions that strategically affect the direction of your program.

But at the same time, McNeill clearly needs to spend time in careful reflection of his defense’s performance and seriously consider the changes that will drive improvement. If there are better coordinators available who he confidently feels can reverse the Pirates’ fortunes, that can’t be dismissed.

It certainly won’t be easy for a head coach who has strong relationships with his staff and clearly values loyalty. Though a good quality for a head coach to possess, it can’t overshadow the willingness to make difficult personnel decisions that are necessary to advance the program.

What’s clear is that East Carolina needs a change in its defensive course. That needs to occur with an upgrade to personnel — especially in the secondary — and revised schemes that better position those players for success.

The pressing question for McNeill is whether or not Mitchell is the right coach to coordinate those improvements.

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12/22/2012 10:07:05 PM

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