ECU Pirates eye bowl berthPublished 7:43pm Monday, October 22, 2012
GREENVILLE – The Pirates secured their first two-game winning streak of the season by topping UAB 42-35 over the weekend and will now take aim at bowl eligibility this Saturday when East Carolina (5-3) hosts Navy (4-3) at 3:30 p.m.
The last time the Midshipmen came to town was in 2010 during head coach Ruffin McNeill’s first season with East Carolina and they blew the Pirates out of the water by runnng for 521 yards, the most ever by an opponent at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, en route to a 76-35 victory.
The lopsided loss helped spur the Pirates’ change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, and since that time the unit has grown into a formidable one that currently ranks 32nd in the nation against the run yielding 123.1 rushing yards per contest.
“I think it starts with the front seven. The kids understand what we call gap integrity, they understand what gap they have and that they have to protect that gap and have integrity not to lose that gap,” McNeill said. “I think the front seven is key, we involve our safety a lot in our run defense but I’m proud of our front seven for taking pride in (their run defense).”
Navy charges into Saturday’s matchup riding a three-game winning streak and averaging 235 rushing yards per game. The team’s option attack will be a big challenge for the ECU defense, but if it can find a way to slow it down the Pirates can lock up that precious sixth win of the season and clinch bowl eligibility.
“I think (bowl eligibility) will be big. That’s one of the things we want to accomplish as a team, a staff and a program,” McNeill said. “That’s not out of our conversation at all.”
PROTECT THIS HOUSE
Over the weekend vandals broke into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and road four-wheel vehicles on to the Pirates’ playing field and on Monday McNeill said he was saddened by the events.
“That’s our house, that’s incredible to me. Why would you destroy our house?,” McNeill said. “Dowdy-Ficklen is precious to me having played and bled on that thing. It’s really disappointing me to me that someone would do that. That’s our house. We live here and to disrespect that is unacceptable to me and I won’t hold back on my comments on that. … I hope (the person/people get prosecuted) to the full extend of the law.”
HARDY HARD TO CONTAIN
ECU sophomore wide receiver Justin Hardy delivered another huge game for the Pirates on Saturday as he caught six passes for 132 yards, which included a tremendous fourth-quarter TD reception in which he fought off two defenders to haul in a Shane Carden 20-yard toss.
“He works at it. He reminds me of (current 49er) Michael Crabtree, a young man we had at Texas Tech,” McNeill said. “(Crabtree) would be double covered and would come back and say, ‘Hey Graham (Harrell) I’m open’ and he would say, ‘But you’re doubled’ and he would say “But I’m still open.’”
On the season Hardy is second in Conference USA with 51 receptions, while his 749 yards are tops in the league.
East Carolina center Taylor Hudson will be out for the second week in a row with a back injury, while OLB Montese Overton (knee) and DE Justin Dixon (knee). Running back Reggie Bullock (concussion) is questionable.