East Carolina defense faces big challenge|Unit looks to hold down the Hokies

Published 4:45 pm Thursday, September 16, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — The East Carolina defense elevated its play a notch or two during Saturday’s 49-27 win over Conference USA foe Memphis.
The Pirates (2-0, 2-0) forced two fumbles which led to two touchdowns, while safety Derek Blacknall picked off a pass and ran it back 46 yards for another score to help ECU take a 28-3 lead after the first quarter.
“You always want to see that improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 and I thought our kids did a great job of cutting back on mental mistakes and dictating tempo this past game,” Pirates defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell said. “Having our D-line back intact and having some healthy bodies up front has really helped tremendously.”
Led by weakside linebacker Dustin Lineback who had 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks, as well as the return of DTs Michael Brooks and Antonio Allison, the East Carolina’s defense registered five sacks and held the Tigers to only 101 rushing yards total.
Those are the positives.
The negatives are that the Pirates let up over 300 passing yards and 27 points to a offensively challenged Memphis (0-2) team that still doesn’t know who its quarterback is, and came into Greenville with only one all-conference caliber player on offense in guard Dominik Riley.
That will not be the case on Saturday as the ECU defense will face a Virginia Tech (0-2) offense that is loaded with talent.
The Hokies will trot out Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, who is one of the top dual threat QBs in the country. Behind him are two young running backs that, if they can remain healthy, seem destined for the NFL. Tech also boasts a very tall and athletic receiving corps led by junior Jarrett Boykin.
That will be a big challenge for a young Pirates defense that returns only two starters in corners Emanuel Davis and Travis Simmons from last year’s C-USA champion defense.
Mitchell said he likes what he has seen so far from his young group, but also knows there is plenty of room for improvement.
“We have had a number of turnovers and a number of sacks,” Mitchell said. “Now if we could cut back on some of our mental mistakes I think we will make a bigger jump. … It comes with time. It’s a new scheme with new players. I looked out there last week and we’re playing with guys who haven’t played (college) football before. Even though one guy may be a fifth year senior he’s still never stepped on a football field as a linebacker. Those kind of things are just unbelievable to me. I mean we’re starting a freshman at end and another sophomore or two at the other end. We’re young but if we continue to work on the fundamentals and continue running to the ball we will continue to make big jumps.”
There will definitely be a big jump in the amount of talent on the other side of the ball when the ECU defenders take the field on Saturday.
“They are a ball control team that wants to run the ball and they got two great backs to do it with,” Mitchell said. “They have a quarterback that is tremendously athletic who can throw and can run, and create on the move. They are just a very talented football team on offense.”
For the Pirates, the key will be to make a strong showing on first and second downs.
“Right now we want to get them third-and-long,” Mitchell said. “They do such a great job of running the football. We want to get them in third down into some adverse situations. Right now that’s my biggest concern.”
Despite Taylor’s ability to run and pass, the Pirates will not alter their basic defensively philosophies.
“No (we won’t change our approach), we’re just cognizant of (Taylor’s running ability),” Mitchell said. “We have some scramble rules in place in the secondary … Our guys have done a good job all week of knowing that this guy can take off any minute.”
When Taylor looks to pass he has several key targets to pick from such as Boykin who is 6-2, 215 pounds, Danny Coale (6-0, 200), Dyrell Roberts (6-2, 190) and TE Andre Smith who is 6-5, 272.
That group’s size and athleticism will present a big obstacle for an ECU secondary that is only in its third game of playing in a new man scheme.
“Right now were not tall enough, those guys are all 6-2, 6-3” Mitchell joked. “They are talented, but our strength is going to be our quickness and tenaciousness.”