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Pirate Notebook No. 398
Monday, Sept. 21, 2009

Denny O'Brien

Big play missing from ECU arsenal

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Harris Poll

For the fourth year in a row, Denny O'Brien is a member of the voting panel for the Harris Interactive College Football Poll, commissioned by the Bowl Championship Series. As a service to readers of this site, O'Brien's ballot will be published in this space each Monday throughout the season.

The Harris Poll is a component of the BCS Standings. The first 2009 BCS Standings, which also take into account the USA Today Coaches Poll and an average of several computer service rankings, will be released on Oct. 18.

A senior columnist for, Bonesville The Magazine and The Pirates' Chest, O'Brien was nominated to the Harris Poll panel by Conference USA.

O'Brien's ballot below was filed in conjunction with a trail run this week by Harris Interactive in preparation for its first official poll of 2009, which will be released on Sept. 27..

Denny O'Brien's Harris Poll Ballot

(Trial ballot, 09.20.09)

  1. Texas
  2. Florida
  3. Alabama
  4. Penn State
  5. California
  6. Ole Miss
  7. Miami
  8. Louisiana State
  9. Southern Cal
10. Florida State
11. Ohio State
12. Texas Christian
13. Oklahoma
14. Boise State
15. Virginia Tech
16. Washington
17. North Carolina
18. Brigham Young
19. Houston
20. Kansas
21. Cincinnati
22. Oklahoma State
23. Georgia
24. Nebraska
25. UCLA

View this Week's Complete Harris, AP & Coaches Polls


Big play missing from ECU arsenal
BVL: This Week's Polls

Batten: Geary & Geary sold on East Carolina

Myatt: Davis, Holtz take the high road
Batten: Pirates uncover recruiting gem in Florida
Bailey: Second half blues beating Pirates

It’s easy to get fixated on the statistical rundown for the East Carolina offense. Outside of the numbers the Pirates posted in the first half of the opener against Appalachian State, the yardage and scoring tally isn’t too impressive.

Through three games, the Pirates are averaging only 22 points, 268 total yards, and have struggled both throwing and running the football. A go-to running back has yet to emerge and the veteran offensive line doesn’t seem to have... well... jelled.

The Pirates again struggled with their second half scoring against North Carolina, netting only a 22-yard field goal with 6:21 left to play. But there is no denying that some positives emerged in the second half against an aggressive and tough Tar Heels defense.

Against North Carolina's collection of defensive all-stars — many of whom should land on NFL rosters — the Pirates pieced together a pair of impressive second half drives that chewed large chunks of clock.

“We got some things going offensively and put a couple of drives together,” East Carolina Coach Skip Holtz said after the game. “What we lacked as an offensive football team is some of the big plays. That was really again one of the differences in this game.

“In the second half we had about a (13) and a 15-play drive and it resulted in three points. That’s a lot of offensive plays to only get three points on the board. We come out and we throw a little screen to Jamar Bryant and he picks up eight or nine yards. They come out there when it gets down to one score, they throw the same screen and it goes for 60.”

The Pirates have clearly missed that home run threat since running back Chris Johnson became the NFL’s fastest man on turf. That said, you can’t completely pin the Pirates’ lack of big-play potential on a shortage of breakaway speed.

One thing the Pirates don’t seem to do too well is block in space. Opposing defensive backs and linebackers are shedding blocks on the perimeter too easily and limiting ECU’s short passes to just that — short gains.

At the very least, East Carolina proved itself more effective at moving the chains in the second half against an outstanding defense on Saturday. If the Pirates can build on that trend, it will provide the defense the rest it needs to remain fresh late in games.

And if the Pirates can find a way to mix in the occasional long ball, you should see the statistical numbers make a complete 180.

Quiet along the defensive front

The strength of the East Carolina defense heading into the season was well-publicized. The Pirates returned a veteran defensive front filled with All-Conference USA performers and a couple with NFL potential.

But so far that group has produced only three sacks among them, all against Appalachian State. At West Virginia, the ECU defensive front spent its share of time in the Mountaineers’ backfield early, but quarterback Jarrett Brown’s strength and speed enabled him to elude the rush.

Facing immobile quarterback T.J. Yates on Saturday, it stood to reason that the Pirates would get him onto the carpet. Other than a couple of quarterback hurries, Yates’ uniform was relatively clean.

By design, the Pirates aren’t a blitzing defense and thus rely on their talented front four to apply pressure. Credit the North Carolina staff for scheming around ECU’s strength.

“I thought they did a really nice job with the game plan,” Holtz said. “They didn’t drop back much and hold the ball.

“When you look at them, when they turned and threw the ball down field they maximum protected. They slipped one guy down the field and protected with seven, even eight guys sometimes so that you couldn’t get there and then threw it down the field. When they didn’t maximum protect, the ball is out of Yates’ hands in a hurry.”

While the numbers might draw criticism on the Pirates’ defensive front, the bigger question mark right now looks to be with the ECU linebackers. Though Jeremy Chambliss, Nick Johnson, and Chris Mattocks are unquestionably scrappy and tough, they look especially slow and struggle with shedding blockers and defending underneath routes.

ACC should confess mistake

The Atlantic Coast Conference should take the high road and confess a critical officiating blunder in the East Carolina-North Carolina game on Saturday. An apology to ECU coaches and administrators would seem appropriate, too.

With the Tar Heels leading the Pirates by a touchdown with more than two minutes remaining, ECU defensive end C.J. Wilson was whistled for a late hit on Yates. The result was a first and goal from the ECU seven-yard line.

The replay quickly revealed that Wilson was clearly pulling up and that Tar Heels fullback Anthony Elzy blocked him into Yates. It was an obvious block in the back that should have generated 2nd and 22 from the ECU 24.

While it’s easy to say that the play had no bearing on the game’s outcome, such an assertion is completely short-sighted. Had the Pirates forced a couple of ensuing incompletions, it would have set up a 41-yard field goal attempt by Casey Barth who had previously shanked one from 38 yards out.

Had that scenario occurred it still would have been a tall order for ECU to drive the field against the tough Tar Heels 'D.' But at least it might have generated the opportunity.

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09/21/2009 02:45 AM

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