Injury to Cotton proves costly

Published 2:13 am Thursday, October 2, 2008

By By STEVE FRANKLIN, Sports Writer
It started off as an ordinary play.
A simple off tackle run by Tulane’s Andre Anderson on second-and-goal from the ECU 1 yard line.
Turns out, it would be a play that would haunt the Pirates’ defense for the rest of the season.
As East Carolina’s defense celebrated after tackling Anderson for a two-yard loss, star linebacker Quentin Cotton lay near the goal line, riving in pain.
As he was helped to his feet and whisked away to the locker room, his right leg dragging across the turf of the Louisiana Superdome, the pain and severity of the injury was evident.
Cotton wasn’t coming back.
The senior linebacker tore his anterior crucial ligament on the play, and it was announced a day later that he’d be lost for the season.
Since that moment, ECU’s defense has taken a turn for the worse.
Before Cotton’s injury, the Pirates defense had given up just 16 points in nine quarters. In the 11 quarters since then, East Carolina has given up 95 points.
The Pirates’ pass defense has really struggled since Cotton went down.
Cotton was by far ECU’s best cover linebacker. In fact, Cotton still leads the Pirates’ defense in interceptions (2), pass break-ups (3) and pass deflections (5), despite playing in just nine-plus quarters.
In the three games that Cotton played in — all wins by the way — ECU’s pass defense gave up only 149 yards per contest through the air. In the Pirates’ last two losses without him, to sub .500 teams N.C. State and Houston, East Carolina has allowed 328 passing yards per game.
The Pirates didn’t allow a passing touchdown with Cotton in the lineup, since then, they’ve allowed seven touchdown tosses.
The rush defense also hasn’t been the same. After allowing just 119.7 rushing yards per game against the traditional run-happy offenses of Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Tulane, the Pirates have allowed 174.5 yards per contest against the likes of N.C. State and Houston.
In Cotton’s three starts, the Pirates allowed an average of 268.7 yards per game. In the last two contests, they’ve given up better than 502 yards per contest.
That’s a difference of more than 233 yards a game with Cotton on the sidelines.
The bottom line is, if East Carolina wants to get back to being in the national limelight, like it was after back-to-back wins over two Top 25 teams to start the season, someone needs to step up and fill the void left by Cotton.
If not, the Pirates will have a tough time competing for a Conference USA championship.