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Inside Game Day
Saturday, November 7, 2015

By Al Myatt

Pirates stuck in offensive slump

Al Myatt
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GREENVILLE East Carolina struggled offensively in a 22-17 loss to South Florida on Saturday night. No first downs in the first half is not representative of the system Lincoln Riley brought to the Pirates from Texas Tech as offensive coordinator under Ruffin McNeill in 2010.

ECU averaged 533 yards of offense per game last season. Riley, quarterback Shane Carden, receiver Justin Hardy and running back Breon Allen are no longer around and that's a lot to overcome.

Still, there was a belief that the program had the ability from recruiting and developing depth through position competition to withstand such personnel losses.

A preseason injury to projected starting quarterback Kurt Benkert began what has been a downward spiral in offensive production.

The low ebb may have been the first half against the Bulls.

Total yardage after 30 minutes favored South Florida, 277-29.

The fans who were booing at the break might have been wondering what happened to the two-quarterback system that the Pirates were extolling a month ago when Blake Kemp and James Summers were both taking snaps.

The decision was made to play Summers exclusively against South Florida. While the offense obviously struggled, Summers stayed in.

"Coach (Dave) Nichol (first-year offensive coordinator) and I felt with this offense you've got to let them see the looks and that's the patient part," McNeill said. "We talked about no hesitation all week long, and that's what we told James: 'Do not hesitate to make mistakes. Let it go. Swing your sword. Fire it. It's not ready, aim, fire. It's fire.'

"We saw glimpses of that in the second half. We've got to get him the reps and he's got to see to get experience."

USF finished with a 442-220 lead in total yardage. ECU managed eight first downs after intermission.

Summers has athleticism but doesn't appear to go through a progression of reads before opting to run often times on pass calls. Breakdowns in protection due to injuries on the offensive front may be a factor. Summers completed 14 of 22 throws for 158 yards against the Bulls. Bryce Williams had six catches for 85 yards. Summers led the rushing with 20 keepers for 42 yards and both ECU touchdowns.

The Pirates appear to be trying to get their personnel to fit a system to a degree rather than adapting the scheme to fit the limitations and abilities of available players.

Buying experience for a quarterback was pretty expensive against USF as ECU slipped to 4-6 overall and 2-4 in the American Athletic Conference. The 17-point total was a high in a three-game losing streak for the Pirates.

No first downs in a half of play is incredible.

"That's not us," McNeill said. "We've been here five years and set all kinds of offensive records. We're used to scoring a lot of points and our defense depends on that. James everybody be patient with him. He's getting reps under fire.

"I was disappointed. We practiced extremely well this week and I expected us to have a really productive day."

Worth Gregory was the special teams star as he punted nine times for an average of 44.6 yards with a longest of 73 yards.

Middle linebackers Zeek Bigger and Jordan Williams led the Pirates with 12 and 10 tackles, respectively. Defensive lineman Fred Presley forced a fumble that Yiannis Bowden recovered at the USF 7-yard line to set up the first touchdown for the Pirates.

Rain and wet field conditions made for less than ideal playing conditions and limited actual attendance. A crowd of 45,194 was announced for Military Appreciation Day, which included tickets distributed for the occasion.

The defense did its part to keep ECU in the game for most of the way but a breakdown in coverage led to a 67-yard pass from Quinton Flowers to Rodney Adams with 4:40 left for the deciding touchdown.

A personal foul penalty on ECU's Josh Hawkins gave USF (5-4, 3-2) a first down on its final possession and hurt the Pirates' chances of getting the ball back with sufficient time for a drive.

McNeill called the infraction for a late hit out of bounds deep in Bulls territory "inexcusable."

ECU started its last series at its 29 with 51 seconds to go. The game ended with Summers sacked at the 33.

The Pirates must regroup after finally getting a bye week before a visit to Central Florida (0-9, 0-5) on Thursday, Nov. 19. Practice resumes Wednesday, Nov. 11.

"We've got two games left at Central Florida and Cincinnati here (Nov. 28) to become bowl eligible," McNeill said. "That's what our focus is right now."

E-mail Al Myatt.

PAGE UPDATED 11/08/15 04:28 AM.

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