Pirates set to go back to the future|Will face a UCF team that should look very familiar

Published 1:06 am Tuesday, October 26, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Brian@wdnweb.com, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — Heading into Week 9 of the season East Carolina has experienced just about every type of game that can be thought of, however, this week’s matchup with UCF is an entirely different beast.
So far this year the Pirates (5-2, 4-0) have played as both the favorites and underdogs, been on the road and hosted ACC in-state rivals, played a top-tier Conference USA team and have also experienced the dreaded trap game when they beat Marshall this past weekend 37-10.
What makes this Saturday’s clash for first place against fellow Conference USA East foe Central Florida (5-2, 3-0) is that for the Pirates it’s like going back in time and facing their former selves.
The Knights enter’s this week’s battle with a staunch defense that surrenders a C-USA best 13.9 points per game, is ranked No. 1 in the conference in total defense (259.7 ypg), No. 2 against the run (101.4 ypg) and No. 1 against the pass (101.1 ypg).
Led by a future NFL draft pick at defensive end in Bruce Miller, Central Florida’s defense is predicated on the front four’s ability to rush the passer while its back seven plays zone. On offense, coach George O’Leary’s crew tends to be a more conservative and puts a little more emphasis on the running game than many of the coaches who surround him in the conference.
Sound familiar?
In the past the big question was always about how the Pirates’ stellar defense would hold up against the run-and-gun offenses that have become the hallmark of Conference USA. Typically, under former coach Skip Holtz and defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, East Carolina would bend, bend some more, then close out the game with a sack or an interception to escape with a victory.
This year the shoe is on the other foot, and as ECU travels back to the future for Saturday’s game the big mystery is can Pirates be successful against a team that is modeled in the same fashion as the defending two-time Conference USA champions.
As other teams had to figure out how to contend with ECU’s C.J. Wilson and Linval Joseph, the Pirates must now find a way to block Miller and Darius Nall, who have combined for 9.5 sacks and 20 hurries.
“They play really good defense … They are an experienced group that is led by Bruce Miller … He is a preseason all-American and is a guy who gets a lot of the headlines, and deservedly so,” McNeill said. “He is a great pass rusher and a great technician. He really uses his hands well and has a great motor.”
Central Florida’s emphasis on rushing with its front four will place a premium on offense line play for East Carolina. So far, the unit has been extremely impressive as seniors (LG) Cory Dowless, (RG) D.J. Scott and (LT) Willie Smith have been solid and helped along younger line mates, sophomore center Dalton Fields and freshman tackle Grant Harner, learn on the job.
In the last two games the Pirates played blitz-heavy N.C. State and Marshall, which featured the nations third-leading sack artist in DE Vinny Curry, and have only allowed two sacks.
That group might have to play without the services of reserve center Will Towery, who was not listed on the Pirates’ depth chart for this Saturday’s game. However, McNeill did not rule him out on Monday.
“We hope (he can play),” McNeill said. “He has some personal issues at home. It would not be right for me to delve into that. We love Will and he is welcome back when he is done dealing with that.”
There were no major injuries from the Marshall game, though CB Rahkeem Morgan is listed a questionable due to a knee injury. McNeill said star wideout Dwayne Harris will play this week and is feeling okay after taking a hard hit that left him on the ground for a while against the Thundering Herd.