Pirates continue to show growth|Davis honored by C-USA again

Published 11:41 pm Tuesday, October 19, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Brian@wdnweb.com, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — Two days after scoring a huge program-boosting 33-27 overtime win over rival N.C. State, the Pirates’ eyes are now fixed on this weekend’s opponent Marshall, who will come into Greenville with a 1-5 (0-2) record.
East Carolina (4-2, 3-0) has wrapped up the toughest portion of its schedule and managed to meet or surpass expectations under first-year coach Ruffin McNeill as the team stands in first place in the East Division of Conference USA.
In the last four games East Carolina has played on the road against Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Southern Miss, before coming home to take on red-hot N.C. State. Not only have the Pirates survived that stretch, but after winning the last two games, now head into its battle with the Thundering Herd riding a pretty big high.
McNeill said that period has taught him a and his team a lot.
“We have done a pretty good job of learning from experiences and situations,” McNeill said. “When I talk about developing a group, the development comes from the kids and us being in repeat situations and experiences, and through our success or failure of those situations, learning how to grow from that. I think that four-game stretch taught us that to be honest with you. We have grown as a staff, and I think we have grown as a team.”
Someone who continues to grow each week is Dominique Davis, who was named the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season.
Davis, who hit on 37 of his 53 pass attempts for 376 yards for two touchdowns and no picks, led the Pirates on the game-winning drive in overtime and also called the final play of the game that lead to his third-and-goal 1-yard TD plunge.
“When Dominique had the ball down there (offensive coordinator) Lincoln (Riley) didn’t even call a play,” McNeill said. “Dominique didn’t allow Lincoln to call a play on that last one. I saw (Davis) do this (point to himself) and I said “Oh, he’s going to take this one in.’ I like that.”
Had Davis not succeeded on his third-and-goal attempt McNeill said settling for a field goal was never an option.
“(Had he not gotten in) he would have called it again,” McNeill said. “I was going for it on fourth down. I wasn’t kicking a field goal I can tell you that right now. I was going to go for it again. I felt good about that.”
The Pirates also felt good about Riley’s play-calling. The 27-year old Riley called a brilliant game against the Wolfpack, especially early in the contest as he used a good mixture of runs, passes and screen plays which allowed the team to take a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and made N.C. State stray from its blitz game.
“I told Lincoln I thought he had one of the best scripts I have ever been a part of,” McNeill said. “He mixed well and I thought Dominique did a great job of executing it. I know at one point (Davis) hit 14 passes in a row. … I said last week that they blitz about 40 percent of the time, which is a high number of blitzes. He made him back off of the blitz, they didn’t blitz that much after they hit them a couple of times.”
On the flip side, McNeill was also pleased with defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell’s game plan, one which limited a high-powered N.C. State attack to only 27 points, which is nearly 10 under par for the Wolfpack.
East Carolina was down to three defensive ends in Saturday’s game as the loss of Justin Dixon for the season due to a knee injury, coupled with Marke Powell’s absence after suffering from flu-like symptoms before game time, left the job up to freshman Derrell Johnson, sophomore Matt Milner and senior A.J. Johnson. McNeill said that Johnson played 92 snaps against State, while Milner played 94.
“Defensively I think you see improvement going on there. I think you see the guys growing, developing and trusting their technique,” McNeill said. “They have done a great job of third down conversions for the second week in a row … They are 8 for 35 in the last two weeks against two very good offenses.”
Injury update.
The Pirates came out of the N.C. State game a little banged up as DT Josh Smith (neck) is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game along with LT Willie Smith (ankle). Linebacker Cliff Perryman (hand) is listed as probable. Defensive end Justin Dixon (knee), OL Anthony Garrett (knee), CB Dakota Marshall (leg) are all listed as out for Saturday.