Pirates D looks to dim WattsPublished 8:09pm Wednesday, November 6, 2013
GREENVILLE — East Carolina’s run defense has been stout all season but on Saturday it may face its biggest challenge of the year in Tulsa’s multi-talented threat Trey Watts.
The 5-11, 200-pound senior is averaging 4.9 yards per carry for a team-high 737 yards, while leading the Hurricane with 37 receptions for 322 yards.
Watts, the offensive and game MVP of the 2012 Liberty Bowl, also excels as a kick returner and leads Conference USA with 170.9 all-purpose yards per game.
“He’s a very explosive running back,” said ECU inside linebacker Zeek Bigger. “He can do a lot of things. He has great play-making ability. He leads them in catches, which is a big thing because we have to watch for when he goes out for routes.
“He’s their top player on offense and in order for us to play well we’re going to have to stop him.”
With a run defense that ranks third in the nation allowing 85.3 yards per game, the Pirates have answered the call against every team’s ground game so far this year. However, Watts’ diversified abilities make him one of the toughest assignments they will face this season.
“He’s a really good running back,” ECU defensive coordinator Rick Smith said. “He’s a great player. They put him everywhere on the field. They will put him in the backfield and hand him the ball, they put him out as a wide receiver and throw him the ball. It’s kind of hard to get a bead on where he is going to be and where he’s at. But we’re making sure our players know where No. 22 is because he’s just a heck-of-a player.”
While Watts the running back is a problem in itself – last year he averaged six yards per carry for 1,108 yards – Watts the receiver could be a bigger issue as he will likely be matched up on a linebacker when he goes out for passes.
Bigger, the Pirates fourth-leading tackler, figures to draw that assignment a few times during Saturday’s game and said that proper positioning is key.
“He’s very good. He has quick feet. He makes a lot of good moves and cuts, so my responsibility is to be able to break down and not try to over play his running techniques,” Bigger said. “Then, they have a couple of good blockers that can crack back on you, so you have to keep your eyes open and know where he’s going all the time.”
As has been the case all season, East Carolina will make it a priority to stop Watts and the running game first.
“It’s important to stop the run every week because if you stop the run all they can do is pass,” said fellow inside linebacker Kyle Tudor. “When you stop the run it shuts down a team’s momentum and ability to control the game.”
In eight games this year ECU has allowed a team to gain over 100 yards only twice (FAU-104, USM-121) and that’s because the Pirates do a good job of swarming to the ball, something they will have to continue to do this weekend.
“It’s a team effort. We fight for each other and play for each other every down,” Bigger said. “We don’t want nobody to run on us. We go out and fight for each other and we want to let people know that we’re not going to let anybody run the ball on us.”