Pirates place focus on Tar HeelsPublished 7:08pm Monday, September 23, 2013
GREENVILLE — The Pirates first attempt at topping an ACC team resulted in a near miss as East Carolina fell 15-10 at home to Virginia Tech its last time out. On Saturday, East Carolina (2-1, Conference USA) will get another shot as it travels to Chapel Hill for a showdown with instate rival North Carolina (1-2, ACC) at 12:30 p.m.
The Pirates, who have lost seven straight games to BCS schools, had the Hokies in their crosshairs, but couldn’t pull the trigger. Quarterback Shane Carden was sacked seven times and threw three interceptions, as the normally explosive Pirates were held to 204 yards of total offense.
Coming off of a bye week, ECU has had some extra time reflect on the loss and fourth-year coach Ruffin McNeill said is team was anxious to play again.
“I just want to get on field again for our players, and they want to get on the field,” McNeill said. “The last game we played, it was a tough locker room to address and I’ve addressed a lot of locker rooms as a coordinator and as a coach.
“It was tough because this team has invested a lot, these kids have invested a lot and have done what we’ve asked them to do. I want to win for them first. Then in turn win for our program and East Carolina. All games are big to a coach. I understand the instate rivalry, I’ve played in it. I’m looking for to the competition, the contest and the challenge.”
The Tar Heels, who are coming off of a 28-20 loss to Georgia Tech, own a 12-2-1 lifetime record against ECU and have won the last four meetings.
The Pirates posted 649 passing yards without throwing an interception in their first two games of the season, but that production came to a halt against Virginia Tech as ECU was intercepted three times and mustered only 158 passing yards.
Justin Hardy, who registered 20 receptions for 227 yards heading into the game, managed to catch six passes but only traveled 30 yards.
On Monday, McNeill credited the Virginia Tech front four for its ability to get pressure and said that the Hokies’ man defense was a factor.
“They did a good job up front,” McNeill said. “They were able to play man on the back end and I thought they did a good job of that. … You have to give (defensive coordinator) Bud (Foster) credit.
“We learned from it and we took what we learned from that game and worked on it last week.”
Benton activated; Hawkins working his way back
Freshman cornerback DaShawn Benton was stripped of his redshirt this week and will be on the active roster for the North Carolina game.
“We thought about playing DaShawn earlier and he’s done well,” McNeill said. “DaShawn will give us an increase in athleticism on the back end. He can play corner and the nickel position for us.”
The 6-0, 175-pound Atlanta, Ga. native drew praise from defensive coordinator Rick Smith during fall camp and should serve as an insurance policy for the Pirates while Joshua Hawkins works his way back from a concussion sustained during the Virginia Tech game.
Hawkins, a sophomore who started the first two games of the year, had to leave Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in a stretcher in the second half against the Hokies.
“Josh is going through the concussion program and the tests,” McNeill said. “It’s – and I want it to be this way – a complicated test. … Josh is excited and he wants to get back on the field.”
Hawkins is officially listed as questionable for this Saturday.
The Pirates were more upbeat about the possible return of starting inside linebacker Kyle Tudor, who was sidelined for the Virginia Tech game with a shoulder injury.
“Kyle has gotten some work and we’ve tried to increase his load each day to see if he can handle it,” McNeill said. “If he can’t we won’t play him. I love the game, but I love Kyle more. He’s a tough hombre but if he’s not healthy I won’t play him in a game.”
If Tudor can’t go, Brandon Williams, who had 12 tackles against the Hokies, will get the starting nod again.