Season in Review
December 9, 2011
By Kevin Monroe
Injuries, mistakes made for bumpy season
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The East Carolina football
team had a challenging 2011 season filled with more bad times than good.
After five straight postseason appearances, the Pirates will watch this
year’s bowl games from their living rooms.
After playing one of the
toughest non-conference schedules in the nation, ECU dug itself a big
whole, going 1-4 out of the gates. As the season moved along, the
Pirates showed glimpses of good football but found it hard to
consistently move the football and avoid turnovers.
Things looked promising
even in some of the early losses, but injuries and other issues cropped
up all along that hampered the team's progress and seemed to set the
pace for a season that never took shape the way fans hoped it would.
Against South Carolina in
week one, East Carolina tallied more first downs than the Gamecocks, had
130 more passing yards and 50 less penalty yards. The key stat in that
game was 5 ECU turnovers. The Pirates actually had the led at halftime,
but turned the ball over 3 straight times to start the 3rd quarter,
allowing USC to take a lead that it would not relinquish. The Gamecocks
were ranked 12th in the nation, yet ECU played well enough to beat them
had it avoided giveaways.
After the USC game, East
Carolina welcomed No. 13 Virginia Tech to Greenville. This game was the
ultimate defensive battle. The Pirates faced one of the nation’s top
running backs in David Wilson and, even though he had a pretty good day
running the ball, the Hokies were kept off the score board for the most
part. Virginia Tech’s defense, led by coordinator Bud Foster, was
equally up to the challenge and shut down the Pirates' passing game. ECU
lost by 7 after just missing a pass in the end zone that would have tied
The UAB game is where fans
started to realize this Pirate team was battling some demons. East
Carolina dominated the Blazers up and down the field, tallying a
season-best 542 yards on offense. That’s the good news; the bad news is
that the Pirates also set a team-high in turnovers with 7. Inexplicably,
ECU managed to win that game after giving UAB so many opportunities.
The North Carolina game
was another one the Pirates lost control of because of penalties and
turnovers. East Carolina had 8 more first downs than the Tar Heels and
200 more passing yards. But the Pirates got behind early, couldn’t run
the ball and were forced to throw the ball more than desired (58 passing
attempts.) North Carolina did a nice job running the football behind
Giovanni Bernard and the ECU defense was unable to get off the field on
some very crucial 3rd downs. A 226-yard rushing day by the Heels
combined with the Pirates' 4 turnovers proved to be too much overcome.
Houston was just an
old-fashioned butt whooping! The Cougars rushed for 215 yard and passed
for 357 yards. Not only could the Pirates not stop them, but on most
downs they weren’t even lined up yet when Houston snapped. East
Carolina’s running game was completely inept with 30 rushes for 21
yards. The passing game was better, but because of the lack of a run
game it became predictable. This led to another 4-turnover game.
Both Memphis and Navy had
football teams that just weren’t as talented as the Pirates. Dominique
Davis had his best two-game run of his career, going 70 for 84 with no
interceptions and recording 718 yards passing, 4 passing TD’s and a
couple of rushing scores. He set single-game and two-game NCAA records
for consecutive completions. He did not throw a pick in either game. His
play alone led the Pirates the road victories over Memphis and Navy. The
defense also stepped up in both of those games, especially when Navy had
a chance to win the game on its last possession.
The Tulane game got the
Pirates back to a .500 record in front of the home fans. There was solid
QB play as Davis threw for 336 yards with only 1 interception and East
Carolina had its 3rd straight game with at least 125 yards rushing. The
defense was on its game as well, managing 2 takeaways and holding the
Green wave to only 13 points.
The last quarter of the
season was tough. East Carolina had a 7-0 lead on Southern Miss and was
driving to go up 14-0 before throwing an interception that was returned
for six. The Golden Eagles then returned a punt for 6 and returned a
blocked punt for 6 more before the end of the first quarter. It was the
strangest few minutes of football I have ever witnessed. ECU never
recovered from that three-touchdown blitz and went on to lose 48-28.
UTEP was a long road trip
against a team East Carolina really needed to beat. That was the first
loss of the season to a team not as good as the Pirates. It was on the
road — and all conference games are tough — but that loss is the reason
ECU isn't bowl eligible. The Miners didn’t do anything special; they
just outlasted the Pirates and did what they needed to do to win.
The Central Florida and
Marshall games were great games for fans to watch. The Pirates managed a
really nice win at home over the Knights, but suffered a heart-wrenching
overtime loss on the road to the Herd. Both games were winnable. The
Pirates had 4 turnovers against Marshall, creating a disadvantage for
themselves in a conference game on the road that virtually made the
outcome inevitable. Marshall also had its back to the wall and needed to
win to get to a bowl game. The Herd pulled out all the stops in order to
get that victory.
The future for the Pirates
looks bright. The team is young and Coach Ruffin McNeill is intent on
continuing to grow the program by recruiting the best of the best. Only
6 of the 22 starters from the Marshall game were seniors. ECU will need
to add some depth to the offensive line, running back, and defensive
back positions as well as replace the quarterback.
Next year’s non-conference
schedule features the likes of West Virginia, North Carolina, and Navy
to name a few. The road won’t be easy but the view from here looks
pretty good. Houston will be back to reality without Case Keenum,
Southern Miss will likely be hiring its second new coach in five years,
and Central Florida’s program is headed in the wrong direction.
It's time for East Carolina to start its rise back to the top of
01/03/12 02:39 AM.