Pirates remaining hopefulPublished 9:04pm Monday, October 8, 2012
GREENVILLE — Though it may have felt like East Carolina’s chances of winning a Conference USA East Division title were dashed away around the same time Central Florida’s Quincy McDuffie made his 99-yard dash to the end zone Thursday night in Orlando, but Pirates head coach Ruffin McNeill reminded his team that there is still plenty off football left on the calendar.
East Carolina’s 40-20 loss to UCF on Thursday essentially put it two games behind the Knights in the C-USA East standings because should the two teams end the year with the same league record ECU would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker.
However, the Pirates (3-3, 2-1) arrive at the midway point in their schedule having cleared most of their major hurdles already as the remainder of their C-USA slate has a combined 6-20 record.
The biggest league challenge remaining on their calendar figures to be Marshall, whom they will play at home in the regular season finale and currently holds a 2-4 (1-1) record.
While ECU has already played three league games, the Knights have just begun their venture into C-USA play and their league schedule features some tough matchups, with the most notable being contests at Marshall and Tulsa (5-1, 3-0), as well as a home meeting with SMU (2-3, 1-0).
The Pirates are hoping that there are two UCF losses somewhere on that slate, but in the mean time they must handle what’s in front of them beginning this week with a homecoming matchup against Memphis (1-4, 1-0).
“My job is to make sure they realize there is a lot of season left,” McNeill said. “There’s still six games, we can accomplish a lot as a team. … Last year (Southern Miss) won the division with two losses. … We have a chance to still reach our goals and that’s our plan.”
IN THE LINE OF FIRE
The Pirates offensive line had a subpar performance on Thursday as sophomore QB Shane Carden found himself routinely running away from pressure. On top of that, ECU ran for only 64 yards on 30 attempts. Dragging down that abysmal rushing total were two sacks of Carden that tallied 26 yards.
The Pirates struck for 141 yards and two TDs on their first two possessions of the game, but after that UCF amped up the pressure and ECU never reached the end zone again.
“They did more blitzing than (UCF coach) George (O’Leary) has done while we’ve been here,” McNeill said. “They blitzed more but it was nothing we have not seen previously from other teams.”
Left tackle Adhem Elsawi, LG Jordan Davis, C Taylor Hudson, RG Will Simmons and RT Robert Jones have started all six games in the same positions this season. That continuity was expected to boost the team’s offense production but so far ECU ranks 98th out of 120 FBS teams in total offense with 348.5 yards per game.
The fact that Carden has only made four career starts certainly has to be taken into consideration, however, ECU has a stable of upperclassmen RBs and so far ranks 106th in the nation in rushing offense with 110.8 yards per game.
“The biggest thing was that it was one guy here and one guy there (making mistakes),” McNeill said. “We’ve talked about the five guys playing as a nickel and not as five pennies. There were occasions where you saw all five working together and that’s the key.
“The communication was good and I think with (sophomore center) Taylor (Hudson) being a young guy in the middle of it he has to continue to get comfortable directing the offensive line because he makes the (protection) calls.”
The Pirates left Orlando relatively unscathed as no new players were added to the injury list on Monday. Remaining on the list for Saturday’s game are RB Reggie Bullock (concussion) and DE Justin Dixon (knee), who are both listed as out, while CB Jacobi Jenkins (leg) is listed as probable.