Pirates look to turn the page|Team shifts focus to UAB Blazers

Published 4:27 am Tuesday, November 9, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Brian@wdnweb.com, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — After suffering a record-setting 76-35 loss to Navy on Saturday, the East Carolina football team was ordered to move on as fast as possible by first-year coach Ruffin McNeill as the team prepares for its Thursday night matchup on the road against fellow Conference USA opponent UAB (3-6, 2-3).
The short week will serve as both a blessing and a curse for the Pirates (5-4, 4-1). East Carolina is certainly happy it does not have to wait long to get at a crack at redemption, but with injuries mounting quickly, especially on the defensive side of the ball, it wouldn’t necessarily hurt to have a few extra days to heal.
“I look at this as a great opportunity for us as a football team,” McNeill said. “The glass is always half full and it is probably over half full with me. … We have had two (losses) in a row, but I look at this as a great opportunity. The glass is half full. We can show what type of team we are and what we are made of as a football team.”
The glass may be half full, but the starting lineup for on defense is beginning to look a little empty as East Carolina announced Monday that defensive end Marke Powell is out for the rest of the season with an injured right wrist.
The Pirates’ defense, which returned only two starters from last year’s Conference USA-winning team, has been comprised mostly of underclassmen and seniors who have not had much experience, and on Saturday it allowed a Dowdy-Ficklen-record 76 points to the Midshipmen.
That unit has also surrendered a mind-blowing 786 rushing yards in its last two games, both losses, and must face the Blazers without Powell, who with DT Michael Brooks (knee), is the second defensive lineman in the last week to be pronounced out for the year. They join the sideline with the standout freshman DE Justin Dixon, who has not played since Week 5 and still remains the team’s sack leader with three.
According to the team’s depth chart released on Monday, the school has only one senior, DT Josh Smith, and four freshmen on its eight-man defensive line rotation. Smith is far from healthy himself as he has been battling severe neck pains.
One of those freshman is in the rotation DE Lee Pegues, who had his red shirt removed for Saturday’s game against Navy.
The East Carolina D-line isn’t the only unit that is banged up, the secondary will be limited thanks to an ankle injuries to senior CB Travis Simmons and sophomore CB Rahkeem Morgan.
Simmons’ ankle injury snapped his 26-game starting streak when ECU faced Navy Saturday. Sophomore Jacobi Jenkins started in his place and is expected to do so Thursday if Simmons can not start.
The offensive side of the ball does not have as many injuries, but the ones that it has are significant. East Carolina star receiver Dwayne Harris suffered a lower back contusion on Saturday, and while he is expected to play against UAB, he might see limited action and may not play on special teams.
Running back Jonathan Williams, who had two fumbles against Navy, has been playing with a rib injury.
“John had some fumbles, and one of them was his (fault), but he played hurt all game and he couldn’t take a lick all week,” McNeill said. “I saw a kid who … came out of the game after the first run and looked me in the eyes and I said ‘Are you alright?’ And he said ‘Coach it hurts.’ Then he went back in the next play and he almost got 100 yards rushing.”
Williams ended the game with 94 yards on 12 carries.