Pirates-Knights clash in a test of wills|Two teams square off for C-USA driver's seat

Published 2:01 am Saturday, October 30, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Brian@wdnweb.com, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — The last two teams with perfect Conference USA record will clash today in a classic offense versus defense showdown as East Carolina heads south to take on Central Florida in a battle for the East Division lead.
The pass-happy Pirates (5-2, 4-0) come into this matchup scorching hot as they are posting a C-USA-third best 36.9 points per contests and have won their last three games in a row.
The stingy Knights (5-2, 3-0) have been able to top teams thanks to a bruising defense that allows a conference-best 13.8 points night and have also riding a three-game streak.
Both teams enter today with a nine-game Conference USA winning streak and who ever can best impose their style of play on the other will make it to 10.
East Carolina first-year coach Ruffin McNeill is well aware of the implications of today’s game, but has also stayed true to his philosophy of which ever game the Pirates are playing is the biggest one of the season.
“For our guys, and for me, the biggest game of the week last week was Marshall. That’s how we looked at. This is a big game. I won’t hide it from them. But it’s also the next game,” McNeill said. “Everybody thinks that it’s coaching rhetoric, but it’s not. It’s what I believe in. Every game is a big one because it’s the only one you play this week. You get one shot.”
A big component of today’s game will be tempo. Whichever team can win the battle of tempo will likely win the game.
The fast-paced Pirates run their air raid attack at breakneck speed and look to get faster each week under the direction of first-year offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.
The result so far has been similar to using a press in basketball, when it’s applied and correctly executed it changes the tempo of the game and can lead to points in bunches. The opposing team might recover or adjust after a short period of time, but by then it may find itself already down by a touchdown or two.
A perfect example of this was during the N.C. State game when ECU jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. By the time the Wolfpack tweaked their schemes it was down three scores.
The system also allows for ECU to make up points in a hurry. Proof of that occurred in Week 6 when the Pirates overcame a 20-0 first-quarter deficit to top Southern Miss 44-43.
East Carolina stands at 10th in the conference in time of possession as it holds on to the ball for a little over 27 minutes a game which ranks 112th best nationally.
Take one guess who is tops in the conference in T.O.P.
The Knights, like most good defense teams, hold on to the ball for over 34 minutes per contest, which places them second in the nation behind Army.
Led by quarterback Dominique Davis, who will be making a trip back to his home state of Florida as Conference USA’s leading passer, East Carolina has plenty of weapons to combat a Knights team that ranks in the seventh nationally in total defense (259 ypg).
Davis (196-308, 2,023, 18 TDs) is second in all of the FBS in completions per game and points responsible for, while ranking eighth in the country in total offense.
The junior QBs has several targets to throw to but wideout Dwayne Harris has been his favorite. The senior receiver is averaging a FBS-sixth best 7.7 catches a game and has tallied a team-high 707 receiving yards and five scores.
Fellow wide receiver Lance Lewis (37-455) has scored seven TDs, which ties him for the team lead with running back Jonathan Williams who is averaging 5.2 yards per carry and 67.6 yards per game.
Central Florida boasts one of the best defensive lines in the conference which is led by senior DE, and preseason all-American, Bruce Miller and junior DE Darius Nall.
The Knights’ dynamic duo has been crushing opposing QBs this season. Nall leads the team with 6.5 sacks, while Miller has posted 3. The two have combined for 15 tackles for a loss and 20 QB hurries.
Under Riley’s direction, the Pirates have done a good job getting teams to back off their blitzes by running quick-hitting passing plays that neutralize the pass rush.
Statistically, the Knights’ defense looks amazing as it leads C-USA in pass defense (158 ypg) and is second against the run (101 ypg). However, the team’s schedule must be taken into consideration. In order, UCF has played South Dakota (38-7 W), N.C. State (28-21 L), Buffalo (24-10 W), Kansas State (17-13 L), UAB (42-7 W), Marshall (35-14 W) and Rice (41-14 W). It hasn’t exactly been a schedule loaded with college football powerhouses.
East Carolina has faced a more intense schedule up to date as it topped Tulsa and Marshall before falling to Virginia Tech and North Carolina on the road before topping Southern Miss, N.C. State and Marshall.
The Pirates’s defense has been improving each week and will catch a break as it will not have to try and stop former first-team all-conference running back Brynn Harvey, who has been redshirted this season due to a torn ACL.
The Knights have played four different quarterbacks this year but are down to three after Rob Calabresse tore his ACL and will sit the rest of the year. Freshman dual-threat quarterback Jeff Godfrey is the team’s starter. L.D. Crow is the team’s most viable pocket passer, while Nico Flores will be used in wildcat situations.
Ronnie Weaver (65 ypg) is UCF’s leading rusher. Brian Waters is the top pass-catcher with 21 receptions for 277 yards.
The Pirates defense, which is coming off of its best outing after the team’s 37-10 win over Marshall is led by Dustin Lineback who has tallied a C-USA-fifth best 67 tackles.
The East Carolina defensive line will face a tough task in trying to get to Godfrey, as he is not only a rushing quarterback, but is protected by 6-7 left tackle Jah Reid who McNeill spoke highly of on Monday during his weekly press conference.