Pirates streak into showdown with WolfpackPublished 6:27pm Friday, November 22, 2013
GREENVILLE — It may not be the Pirates “Super Bowl” as described by N.C. State play-by-play announcer Gary Hahn earlier in the year, but the truth is any time East Carolina plays an instate ACC school it’s a big game.
Having already dispatched North Carolina 55-31 earlier this year, the Pirates (8-2, C-USA) will look to go 2-0 versus instate opponents this season when they take on the Wolfpack (3-7, ACC) at 12:30 p.m. inside Carter-Finley Stadium.
“They’re all big games right now,” ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said. “We have to make sure we play well. It’s a big game for (N.C. State coach) Dave (Doeren) and it’s a big game for us.”
The Pirates enter the clash red-hot having won four straight games, with their last one being a 63-14 rout of Alabama-Birmingham.
A win today would give the Pirates their longest winning streak since 1999 and their highest win total since 2009, which is the last time they won a Conference USA championship.
N.C. State arrives at today’s game as polar opposites of the Pirates. The Wolfpack allowed Andre Williams to rush for an ACC-record 339 yards during its 38-21 loss to Boston College last week, which was its sixth straight defeat.
McNeill said he can relate to first-year coach Dave Doeren’s struggles at N.C. State.
“It’s just like when we came here in that you have a package in mind. Dave has what he wants to run offensively, defensively and on special teams. You have to get the players and parts that fit that, particular to what you want,” McNeill said. “… Dave’s been plagued by the injury bug and we have, too. I’m not thinking for Dave, but I know how it was for us when we came here.”
The last two times these teams have met each contest has ended in overtime with the home team winning in both cases. Overall, the Wolfpack owns a 16-11 lifetime record versus East Carolina.
East Carolina offense vS. N.C. State defense
The Pirates are coming off their most balanced and explosive outing of the season and they are hoping that output continues today.
Playing in what was scheduled to be its final home game of the year, ECU racked up 625 yards and 36 first downs on 76 plays to hang a season-high 63 points on UAB.
Running back Vintavious Cooper rushed for 126 yards and three touchdowns on only 15 carries, while junior RB Breon Allen gained 92 yards on 13 carries and scored on a 51-yard jet sweep that was deemed a pass.
“He’s gotten better,” McNeill said of Allen. “He missed a large part of camp because of a nagging injury. He provides a different gear for us. He and Tay (Cooper) work well together.”
Senior WR Reese Wiggins also had a breakout game, racking up 142 yards and three touchdowns on five receptions in what could have been his final home game of his career.
The Pirates will face a Wolfpack defense that has defended the pass well, ranking 26th in the FBS with 209.7 yards allowed per game.
However, N.C. State ranks 78th against the run (181.9 YPG) and has giving up 27.9 points per contest.
ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said the Wolfpack’s strength lies in its front four.
“They like to play coverage and let their defensive line control the game,” Riley said. “Their whole front is good and they have quality backups that they can throw in there to keep guys fresh.”
Middle linebacker Robert Caldwell leads N.C. State with 87 tackles, while defensive end Art Norman has recorded a team-high 4.5 sacks.
East Carolina defense vs. N.C. State offense
Injuries have taken a toll on the Wolfpack offense, but East Carolina defensive coordinator Rick Smith said that there is still cause for concern.
“They have a good football team,” Smith said. “I can’t explain why they’re not doing better in terms of wins and losses, but they’re scoring points.”
The Wolfpack ranks 96th in the FBS in points per game with 22.5 and has had continuity issues behind center. N.C. State has four players that have attempted five or more passes this season, but so far Pete Thomas (149-247-9 4 TDs) Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell (37-76-6 1 TD) have received the bulk of the work.
“Mitchell (foot injury) didn’t play last week versus Boston College but he’s played several games for them and he’s a good runner. … And (Thomas) is a good thrower and a good scrambler, ” Smith said. “We don’t really know who we’re going to get.”
One thing Smith was sure of was that ECU must pay special attention to the tight ends. David Grinnage (12 catches, 133 yards) is a 6-5, 267-pound freshman with a big upside, while Asa Watson stands at 6-3, 237-pound senior who has 3 receptions for 41 yards.
The Pirates defense was able to quiet Tar Heels star tight end Eric Ebron during their 55-31 victory over UNC by being physical with him down field and it’s a safe bet the unit will take the same approach this weekend.
The East Carolina defense was stout last week versus UAB, forcing three turnovers, which included an interception that was returned for a touchdown by linebacker Kyle Tudor.
Outside linebacker Derrell Johnson leads ECU in tackles with 62, while OLB Montese Overton’s six sacks are a team-high.