Going to Graceland

Published 6:01 pm Monday, October 10, 2011

GREENVILLE — Even the biggest Elvis fan couldn’t possibly want to go to Memphis more than the Pirates do right now.

After losing 56-3 to Houston in its worst game of the year, East Carolina (1-4, 1-1) will go back on the road to take on a Tigers team that wishes it had the Pirates’ problems.

So far this season Memphis is 1-5 (0-2), with its lone win coming against Austin Peay. The Tigers’ two Conference USA losses extended their C-USA losing streak to at least 10 games, as they went 0-8 against conference opponents last season and 1-7 the year before that.
So can the Pirates find grace in the home of Graceland? They certainly need to, as a win against Memphis could help jumpstart the team as it heads into the softer portion of its schedule.
“I never look at it as all lost,” said ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill on Monday. “We have a chance to win our division and I hope that everybody stays strong around the football team; I am.
“We have a game this week at Memphis that we need to win and we have a chance to win our division; that’s still in our heads.”
It’s not a huge surprise that ECU is 1-4 after starting out the season against then No. 12 South Carolina, No. 11 Virginia Tech, UAB and Houston (who is currently ranked No. 25 in the AP poll). However, the way the team fell apart against the Cougars was a bit shocking.
On Saturday, the Pirates Air Raid offense sputtered as it posted a mere three points and was outgained 572-284 in total yards. East Carolina rushed for a total of 21 yards, committed four turnovers and quarterback Dominquez Davis was sack three times while backup Rio Johnson was taken down six times.
A lot of the team’s woes stem from having an offensive line that was the third-most inexperienced group in the FBS. The unit entered the season with 15 starts amongst them, and sophomore RT Grant Harner accounting for 12 of those.
Senior center Doug Polochak had the other three starts and has missed the last two games with a knee injury. On Saturday, he will be joined on the sideline by starting left guard Adhem Elsawi (knee) as the two are listed as “out” for the Tigers’ game.
On Monday, McNeill did not attempt to sugarcoat the unit’s play against the Cougars.
“(Houston) did a good job up front, they beat us up front,” McNeill said. “There’s no excuses and I’m not making any. They beat us up front with pass rush, with speed rush, with line movement and did a good job in all phases of pressuring and covering.”
The offense’s lack of production led to McNeill subbing in backup quarterback Rio Johnson (13-21, 94, 0 TD, 1 INT) for Davis (13-23, 169, 0 TD, 3 INT) to start the second half, but on Monday McNeill threw his support back behind Davis saying, “Dominique is our quarterback.”
Running Back Reggie Bullock (leg) is listed as questionable for Saturday and if he cannot play he will be replaced by Torrance Hunt. Hunt, a sophomore WR turned RB, got his first extensive action of the year against Houston and did a nice job as he rushed 12 times for 65 yards.
McNeill said he would have liked to run more on Saturday but was not getting the blocking he required.
“We tried to run it but everything starts up front. We did not have our best day up front as a unit,” McNeill said. “(RG) Will Simmons had his best day and Adhem Elsawi, before he got hurt, were having their best days. Steve Baker, we tried to flip him but he will be at left tackle, that’s his best spot, but we struggled at some other positions. In order to run the football that unit has to be a great unit for us up front.”
With Elsawi out, starting LT Jordan Davis is slated to shift to LG, with Baker taking Davis’ vacant spot. Hugh Parker or Josh Clark with start at center for Polochak, while Simmons and Harner will hold down the right side of the line.
Also on the injured list are OLB James Craig (knee), ILB Daniel Drake (shoulder) and OLB Maurice Falls, who are all listed as “probable.”
Labeled as questionable are: CB Derek Blacknall (back), ILB Ty Holmes (wrist) and RB Reggie Bullock (leg).