Pirates to face the rival Tar HeelsPublished 7:08pm Monday, September 17, 2012
GREENVILLE — What a difference a week makes.
Last Monday the Pirates were reeling from 48-10 shelling by then-ranked No. 9 South Carolina and entered its Conference USA opener with major questions regarding the QB position and the defense’s ability to rush the passer.
The Pirates defense answered those questions as it stormed Southern Miss in their 24-14 victory by racking up five sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and three turnovers, one of which led to a 16-yard scoop-and-score by Montese Overton.
Overton, a redshirt freshman outside linebacker, made the first start of his career and recorded a team-high 10 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss and was tabbed the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week.
The questions swirling around the quarterback position may not be fully answered yet. The ECU offense struggled mightily in the first half against the Eagles, but a more productive second half in which sophomore Shane Carden threw a 55-yard TD pass and ran for an 8-yard score helped mask the slow start.
Making his first start of his career, Carden finished the game completing 13 of his 27 pass attempts for 171 yards, but most importantly presided over the Pirates first turnover-free performance since Oct. 22, 2011.
That pick-free effort ensured that nobody had to ask “who will be the starting quarterback this week?” as the Pirates prepare to play in-state rival North Carolina.
ECU comfortably beat FCS Appalachian State in Week 1 before getting blown out by the high-powered Gamecocks in Week 2. Saturday’s clash with defending C-USA champs Southern Miss figured to reveal a lot about the Pirates one way or the other, and on Monday head coach Ruffin McNeill said the victory brought to light his team’s resolve.
“We were resilient. I like the way our personality is beginning to develop,” McNeill said. “I thought we showed character at a place where their fans are right on top of you. … I thought we did a good job of staying the course, that’s where patience has come in.
“Things may not have seem to go smooth on one side of the ball but we still have three more sides of the ball: sideline, defense and special teams and all four sides worked together.”
A SPECIAL EFFORT
The Pirates’ punt and kickoff coverage teams had a sensational outing on Saturday as they kept USM’s Tracy Lampley, the preseason Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Year, from being a factor.
During a first half in which the ECU offense punted on its first seven possessions and went three-and-out five times, the Pirates’ special teams never buckled as punter Trent Tignor routinely delivered well placed punts.
Tignor punted a total of 10 times for an average of 42.2 yards and yielded zero punt return yards as he pinned the Golden Eagles inside their own 20 three times and forced five fair catches en route to being named the Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week.
RUNNING GAME GROUNDED AGAIN
For the second week in a row the Pirates rushing attack struggled as the team ran 33 times for a mere 57 yards and averaged 1.7 yards per carry.
ECU’s 97 rushing yards per game ranks 113th in the nation and McNeill said on Monday that it’s going to take a better effort by the backs and the offensive line for that number to increase.
“You want to be able to run the ball. You want more balance and you want to have more yards, of course,” McNeill said. “Everything works hand-and-hand. I think our offensive line has done a great job protecting the quarterback and establishing the line of scrimmage. They played two good defensive lines (in the last two weeks). That defensive line from Southern Miss is going to be hard for people to handle.
“Our running backs have to do a better job of reading blocks and, I got this from (former ECU coach) Pat Dye, being their own blocker. … Sometimes you have to be your own blocker as a running back, so everything goes hand-and-hand.”
It was announced on Monday that the knee injury sustained by junior defensive end Justin Dixon during the South Carolina game will force him to miss the remainder of the season.
Cornerback Jacobi Jenkins will be out again this week with a knee injury, while CB Kristopher Sykes (knee) is questionable and NT Michael Brooks is listed as probable for Saturday’s game.