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GAME 2 VITALS: Wake Forest at East Carolina

 • Box Score & Statistics
 • AP: Wake QB schools Pirates
 • O'Brien: Pirates foiled by defense... again
  Post-Game Audio: Coaches & players
 • 2004 ECU schedule, scores, attendance, TV


Wake Forest 31, East Carolina 17
Saturday, Sept. 11, 2004
By Denny O'Brien
Story posted Sunday, Sept. 12, 2004

Pirates foiled by defense... again




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GREENVILLE — If the highest degree of improvement occurs between weeks one and two, East Carolina could be staring down the barrel of another disappointing season.

That's one way of analyzing the Pirates' 31-17 loss to Wake Forest Saturday.

After surrendering 621 yards in its opener against West Virginia, the Pirates defense again was soundly dissected, this time by a balanced Deacons attack that nearly matched the Mountaineers' output. Whether on the ground or through the air, Wake found little resistance from an East Carolina outfit more porous than Sponge Bob.

The final score, though somewhat respectable, was nowhere near indicative of the pounding Wake inflicted on the ECU D. If it weren't for a couple of missed opportunities and an untimely interception, the Deacons would have cruised by an even larger margin in their fourth-straight victory over the Pirates.

Playing without arguably its most talented player — receiver Jason Anderson, who was injured on the opening drive — Wake still amassed 584 total yards. Much of that came from the arm and legs of Deacons quarterback Cory Randolph, perhaps the most unlikely star in Jim Grobe's up-tempo offense.

"As hot as the quarterback was, and as poorly as we were covering, they did the right thing," Pirates coach John Thompson said of Wake's unusual reliance on its passing attack. "He did what they should have done.

"We didn't cover very well at all. We never did cover well tonight. We thought we could rush the passer a little bet better than we were able to."

On those occasions when the Pirates were able to break through the Wake offensive front, Randolph had an uncanny penchant for dodging and dashing his way past the first down marker.

When he wasn't high-stepping across Bagwell Field, the Deacs' athletic passer was firing rainbows over the ECU secondary to wide open receivers.

"He's very accurate," Thompson said of Randolph, who finished with 344 yards passing and 107 yards rushing. "He made some very good throws.

"He's very, very good both ways. They do some good things with him. The running game wasn't the difference. He was the difference in the ballgame."

So much so that a Heisman pose wouldn't have been a misplaced celebratory dance. Known for much of his career as an above-average athlete who is a sub-par passer, Randolph had an evening in which Joe Montana would have taken pride.

Of course, much of that was due to an ECU secondary so soft that ten-yard cushions were considered tight coverage. Multiply that by ten and you have the amount of daylight receiver Nate Morton must have visualized on his 63-yard touchdown that pushed the Deacs' lead to 24-3.

"We let the guy get behind us," Thompson said. "You could pick out quite a few plays, but that probably had as much to do with the outcome of the game as any single play. If you could change that — we stop them then — it was a different ballgame."

That essentially has become the theme for an ECU defense many felt would be much improved from 2003. A blown coverage here and a missed tackle there has kept the Pirates out of the win column 13 times out of 14 chances this season and last.

Miscue after miscue has resulted in a defense that ranks near the bottom of the nation statistically in almost every major category. The result is a scenario in which the offense must score at least 35 to stay competitive against even marginal opponents.

"I can't worry about that," offensive coordinator Noah Brindise said. "We try to score every time we get the ball.

"I think in the second half, it probably did get us away from running the ball a little bit. We lost Marvin, also, and that hurt. But when you get down by a couple of touchdowns and it's end of the third, early fourth quarter, we've got to rev things up a little bit. They scored 31 points tonight. We easily could have scored 32. So, that's the way I look at it."

But he shouldn't have to.

With a relatively green quarterback and makeshift offensive line — not to mention a host of unproven, undersized receivers — East Carolina can't rely on offense to win shootouts on a weekly basis. Though Brindise's scheme is proven and quarterback James Pinkney is a star in the making, even the most potent attack would have difficulty climbing out of the holes in which the Pirates tend to dig themselves.

This is the year the defense was supposed to turn the corner. With Thompson's expertise, along with a decent returning nucleus and an influx of young talent, most observers predicted a more respectable bunch.

Two weeks in, though, the ECU defense is stuck in a major recession. Any major strides the Pirates make as a program are contingent on a rapid recovery on defense.

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02/23/2007 01:57:34 AM

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