Pirates tuning out the noisePublished 8:27pm Monday, September 30, 2013
GREENVILLE — East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill’s advice to his team following the Pirates 55-31 stunner against North Carolina on Saturday was the same as it was after their deflating 15-10 loss to Virginia Tech: keep your ear buds in.
Fearful of his players getting overly confident after a big win or too down on themselves after a tough loss, McNeill has asked that they stay level-headed and focuses from week to week.
“The thing that I’ve asked them to do, and it’s the thing they have to learn to do, is drown out the noise,” McNeill said. “That’s the part that’s hard because I can’t guard them 24 hours a day. I wish I could.
“I’ve asked them to drown out the noise. Some weeks it’s going to be a positive noise and some weeks it’s going to be a negative noise.”
The sound surrounding the Pirates (3-1, 1-0) this week will be a wave of positivity after they picked up their first win in Chapel Hill since 1975 and their first victory over an ACC team since ECU downed N.C. State 33-27 in overtime in Oct. 2010.
After two straight battles with ACC teams, the key now for McNeill is to guard against a letdown when the Pirates play for the first time outside of North Carolina this season against Conference USA newcomers Middle Tennessee State (3-2, 1-0) this Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“The reason we need to play is because they’re next,” McNeill said. “Of course the emotion of the game last week will take over, but from Day 1 we’ve talked about doing your job, play the next play and make the routine plays. It’s not what we do it’s how we do. That’s what I tell our players.
“When I was asked about (the UNC) game last week we all know the importance of it, but at the same time what I told (the media) was the same thing I told those players. (Sunday) night when we had our meetings that game was behind us.”
Under the direction of eighth-year coach Rick Stockstill, who was rumored to be a candidate to replace Skip Holtz before McNeill took the job, the Blue Raiders went 8-4 (6-2) last season as members of the Sun Belt Conference.
Like ECU, Middle Tennessee State picked up its first C-USA win of the year over Florida Atlantic and owns a 1-0 record conference record. The winner of Saturday’s game, which is the first ever contest between the two teams, will hold sole possession of first place in the East Division.
Defense getting it done
For the second straight game East Carolina held an ACC team to under 75 yards rushing as it limited UNC to a total of 67 yards on 32 attempts on Saturday, while limiting the Hokies to 53 on 34 attempts the game before.
Perhaps even more impressive was the job the unit did on Tar Heels star tight end Eric Ebron, a 6-4, 245-pound junior who McNeill predicted will be a first round draft pick.
On Saturday, the Pirates held Ebron to four catches for 63 yards and kept him from being a factor for most of the contest.
“He’s definitely a first round guy, he’s a different caliber,” McNeill said of Ebron. “We had to make sure we kept eyes on him. You’re not going to stop a guy like that but we wanted to make sure we controlled him. We tried to reroute him and change coverages on him.”
As a unit, the Pirates defense had several outstanding performances as corner Chip Thompson had a team-high nine tackles and an interception, while ILBs Brandon Williams and Zeek Bigger continued to impress in their newfound starting roles.
The duo made their first career starts against Virginia Tech subbing in place of Kyle Tudor (shoulder) and Jeremy Grove (chest) and combined for 21 tackles. On Saturday, Williams added seven stops and a tackle for a loss, while Bigger booked six tackles and one TFL.
“Those kids made their reps count,” McNeill said.
After being sidelined for the Virginia Tech game with a shoulder injury, Tudor returned to action in a limited role on Saturday and made one tackle.
Grove, who missed his second straight game with a chest injury, is listed as questionable for Saturday, while RB Cory Hunter is out with a knee injury.