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GREENVILLE – Maybe East
Carolina should have unveiled its black uniforms sooner.
Judging by the way the
defense performed in the Pirates' 31-13 victory over Florida Atlantic
Thursday night, maybe their black gear rubbed a little magic into that
often criticized group. Given how it performed in the season opener,
that theory doesn't seem that big of a stretch.
The Pirates needed a
defensive lift given the degree to which the ECU offense sputtered
against FAU. Aside from touchdown drives of 81 and 67 yards, the Pirates
never found much offensive rhythm, thanks partially to seven penalties
and two turnovers.
It was a night when East
Carolina took a couple of surprising steps forward on defense, followed
by a puzzling step back on offense.
Had the defense and
special teams not bailed the offense out, this one would have been far
more competitive than it was. Perhaps the midweek pep talk by senior
safety Damon Magazu lit a charge into the resurgent ECU D.
“One of our leaders,
Magazu, brought the defense together and had a meeting,” junior outside
linebacker Maurice Falls said. “We all agreed with that. We came out
this week and had fun.
“We made all of our
assignments and did our jobs. We wanted to force turnovers and get our
offense back on the field. When our offense is on the field, there's a
good chance we're going to score.”
There is little debate
that the offense the Pirates faced Thursday was a step back from Old
Dominion. The Owls lacked both the personnel and scheme of ODU, and the
Pirates were in complete control from the opening snap.
The Pirates brought
pressure, covered well, and demonstrated better ball pursuit. They
collected six sacks, forced three turnovers, and gave the offense
favorable field position throughout the game.
As for those third down
situations that were seemingly automatic for the Monarchs in the opener?
Completely different story this time around, as the Pirates controlled
possession plays throughout the night.
The end result was a
defensive performance that limited the Owls to only 282 yards, 124 of
which occurred in the fourth quarter after ECU had emptied its bench.
The Owls' lone touchdown came long after most had lost interest.
coordinator Rick Smith for devising a sound game plan that grounded the
Owls for most of the night. He prepared a package of blitzes that sent
defenders from multiple angles and generated confusion for both FAU Qbs.
“Rick has been known for
takeaways,” Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill said. “Tonight, we did a good
job of that. We got three.
“It was big. If we can
give our offense two to three extra possessions, which we did tonight,
that's always a benefit to our football team.”
A critical one, too.
East Carolina's offense
managed only 312 yards on 64 plays, both numbers representing a
significant step back from the season opener. The Pirates also converted
only five of 13 third down opportunities, and repeatedly demonstrated an
inability to extend drives.
If there was a glaring
defensive weakness Thursday, it was the Pirates' inability at times to
bring Owls quarterbacks to the ground when they otherwise had them
corralled. It resulted in several missed opportunities to produce
negative yardage, though it didn't inflict much damage to ECU.
But the Pirates can't
afford similar mistakes against better opponents, like the Virginia Tech
team they will face next week. The Hokies have far better personnel than
FAU and most likely will make similar mistakes bite ECU.
Given where the Pirates
were last week, Thursday night's errors seem more manageable for McNeill
and his staff. If East Carolina can make the same degree of improvement
next week, it has a legitimate chance of beating Virginia Tech —
providing the offense shows up.
The good news for ECU is
that the defense did Thursday night.