Pirates look to right ship against Navy|ECU defense faces another big challenge

Published 2:47 am Tuesday, November 2, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Brian@wdnweb.com, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — After falling to Central Florida 49-35 this past weekend, East Carolina will look to rebound at home this weekend against Navy (5-3), who is coming off of a 34-31 loss to Duke.
On Saturday, the Knights were able to expose a youthful Pirates’ defense as they rushed for 265 yards and five touchdowns. Running back Ronnie Weaver led the ground assault against East Carolina as the former walk-on ran for a career-high 180 rushing yards and tallied two TDs.
Central Florida (6-2, 4-0) scored on seven of its 10 possessions on Saturday, and with the win now holds a one-game lead on ECU (5-3, 4-1) in the Conference USA East Division while possessing the best record in the league.
On Monday, East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill placed the blame for the defense’s poor performance on his own shoulders.
“(UCF’s) offense did a great job. They out-blocked us, out-techniqued us and did a great job on offense,” McNeill said.
“Their offensive line really took advantage of our defensive line and I told them that. That’s no surprise. We didn’t play well defensively, and that’s on me. I’ll get that fixed.”
Part of the problem for the Pirates is that they start a front four that is extremely young, and even though the group appears to be a talented one, there is just no getting around their youth.
East Carolina starts two freshman defensive ends in Derrell Johnson and Matt Milner, a sophomore at DT in Michael Brooks and a senior in Josh Smith at the other tackle spot.
Out of the five players that are listed behind those players on the depth chart only one player, DE A.J. Johnson, is a senior.
“I thought Derrell ran into a wall to be honest with you. He’s a true freshman, he played 92 snaps versus N.C. State and he’s probably played over 200 snaps the last four game. That’s a lot for a young kid, but he’ll bounce back” McNeill said. “I think those guys (the D-line) has a lot of pride about them and I sensed that last night when we met on the field. It was a very focused (practice).
“… You could tell there is youth in them. Michael has gotten beat up a little bit, but he’s done a good job. I didn’t expect to have Michael back at all this year (Brooks suffered a right knee injury before spring practice), but that’s a tribute to Mike Hanley (head athletic trainer) and Mike Golden (director of strength and conditioning) and Michael and how good of shape he was in when he was hurt. He had to have major surgery and did a great job of rehabing.”
Brooks has been playing through pain throughout the season and he and some other players on the D-line may not be participate against Navy and its wing/wishbone attack on Saturday.
“We got some guys banged up,” McNeill said. “Michael Brooks is out, of course Justin Dixon, Anthony Garrett, Kamory Mann, Dekota Marshall (are out). The questionable guys (for Saturday) are (LB) Ty Holmes an (CB) Rahkeem Morgan. Also questionable, (DE) Marke Powell, you saw him go down and he is questionable. (CB) Travis Simmons is questionable.”
Those injuries will place more stress on a Pirates defense that must try and stop another physical running team in Navy that averages 258 rushing yards per game this year and is led by the electric Ricky Dobbs at quarterback.
After facing several spread and more traditional offensive teams, the Pirates must now prepare for Navy’s option attack in a short period of time.
“It’s tough. We introduced a little bit of it at summer camp and in the spring, but you don’t face it that much,” McNeill said. “(Coaches) John (Wiley, associate head coach/linebackers coach), myself, Brian Mitchell (defensive coordinator), Marc Yellock (defensive tackles coach) have faced it a lot. … Defensively, it’s a physical day but it’s an assignment focus day. It has to be very sound.”
When the Pirates host the Midshipmen (3:30 p.m.) It will Military Appreciation Day at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, and McNeill said he expects fans to show their support for the military.
“It’s a big day, Military Appreciation Day, my dad was in the 82nd Airborne and I have the utmost respect for what our troops are doing and we have a great plan here for them,” McNeill said. “Those families that have their husband’s, daughter’s and son’s fighting for us right now, my prayers, hopes and wishes go out to them.”