Pirates in good hands with Hudson|Defensive coordinator’s stock rises in unison with ECU’s

Published 1:35 pm Saturday, August 22, 2009

Contributing Writer

GREENVILLE — It was one of those events that you knew it would be good, but had no idea it would be that good. It was like the first time an inspiring comic heard Pryor, or a young musician listened to the New York Philharmonic. It was beautiful, with perfect timing and yet a total revelation to Pirates fans that appreciate keeping points off the board more than seeing them put on.
For the 43,610 East Carolina fans that watched defensive coordinator Greg Hudson call the shots during the school’s 24-3 win over No. 8 West Virginia, it will be remembered in the same revere Woodstock goers recall seeing Hendricks.
It’s been nearly a year since ECU’s defense came three points away from posting a perfect game against one of the most potent offenses in the country, but it should be remembered as one of the great days in Pirates’ history.
It was only the second game of the year, but after a headline-grabbing upset over No. 17 Virginia Tech, the Pirates appeared to be in mid-season form heading into their home game against No. 8 West Virginia.
The big talk leading up to the contest was how East Carolina planned on corralling the Mountaineers’ multi-dimensional, three-time bowl winning quarterback Pat White. The same Pat White that led the Mountaineers to a 48-7 thrashing of ECU in 2007.
Would the Pirates spy him, blitz him, sit back and try to contain him? Would they re-work their defensive scheme and try to surprise him? If they did, would they still be able to contain upstart sophomore running back Noel Devine?
Oh, and there might be a tropical storm named Hannah on the way which, depending on which sports-crazed Pirate fan you asked, would either “totally help the Pirates,” or “completely ruin any chance they had.”
The storm never came, both figuratively and literally.
East Carolina strung together one of the most well executed defensive performances in all of college football last season as it rolled to a 24-3 victory to stun West Virginia and vault into the national spotlight, and a No. 14 ranking.
The Pirates front line, led by defensive end C.J. Wilson, harassed White all day long. Though ECU had only one sack, the Pirates’ pressure limited the Mountaineers’ QB to 72 passing yards.
The key to the defensive performance wasn’t some amazing idea Hudson thought up late at night while watching game film, but was more the result of consistent drilling of fundamentals.
“Nah, there wasn’t any kind of special defense; it’s just like what Coach Hudson says, ‘just go out there and do what we do,’” ECU linebacker Chris Mattocks said. “There ain’t nothing new for Pat White. We weren’t going to surprise him with any kind of defense. We just did our defense, but really fast.”
The fact that Hudson didn’t change his defense is admirable, and important. It showed he had confidence that his system could impose its will on West Virginia’s offense.
“His style is very aggressive,” Wilson said. “We don’t do too much scheme-wise, but we just do what we do. That’s one of his favorite mottos.”
The significance of the performance was that it sent a message to the Purple-and-Gold faithful that on ECU’s best day, it can hang with the big boys.
The B-plot of that day was that Pirates’ fans might be witnessing the birth of the first branch of the developing Holtz coaching tree in Hudson.
East Carolina’s 42-year-old, fifth-year defensive coordinator’s relationship with Holtz dates back to 1986 when the two played football at the University of Notre Dame.
“We played college football together at Notre Dame; Gregg came in when I was an upper-classman … We have known each other for a long time,” Holtz said. “He is a phenomenal guy. He’s a great person, he’s funny, he’s witty, he’s got a great sense of humor. He works hard and is knowledgeable on everything about this game.”
Known for his fiery passion and flexible schemes, Hudson revamped and reinvigorated a defense that was one of the worst in the nation prior to his arrival in 2005 into one of the best in Conference USA.
Despite a bevy of injuries that affected the defensive line, linebackers and secondary, last year the Pirates finished first in total defense (333 yard per game), second in pass efficiency (116.2) and third in run defense (1135.8 yards per game).
The self-deprecating Hudson credited his squad’s success to his players.
“We had talent for one,” Hudson said. “And we had guys that played a lot football and taken coaching and understood the standard. We were good up front, and we put kids in position to make plays.
“The main thing is that we always tell them the truth. They know what to expect. There is no gray area with us. They know how they will be rewarded, and they know the result of doing the work is now winning a championship; and we have evidence.”
The players also know he expects the most from them day in and day out.
“He has a fiery passion,” Mattocks said. “He expects the best from you as a player. If you run a 4.5, he expects you to run a 4.5. If you run a 4.8, he expects you to run a 4.8 all the time. As long as you go as hard as you can, there is no problem with him. But if you step out of line, he’s going to let you know.”
The Pirates run a 4-3 base defense, but what they do with that base varies greatly.
“I would categorize our style as multiple, adjustable and fanatical,” Hudson said. “It’s controlled chaos out there, but we are almost disciplined to a fault.”
Hudson and his crew face another tough schedule this season, but if the Pirates D can stand tall the way it did last season, Hudson and East Carolina should enjoy another year in the national spotlight.