Feeling good again

Published 7:14 pm Monday, October 17, 2011

East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill (right) and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley talk before the Purple and Gold game. The Pirates are coming off a 35-17 win over Memphis and are looking to sustain that momentum Saturday when they face Navy. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — The Pirates rebounded from their worst loss of the season with their best victory of the year as they topped Conference USA East rival Memphis 35-17 on Saturday to bring some positive momentum into their showdown with Navy this Saturday.
East Carolina (2-4, 2-1) sits tied for first place in the C-USA East race with Marshall (3-4), which also owns a 2-1 conference record.
Though the Pirates were 16-point favorites to beat Tigers, it wasn’t smooth sailing early as a costly Dominique Davis fumble in the end zone led to a Memphis score and 10-7 halftime lead for the Tigers. However, ECU dominated in the second half as it outscored the Tigers 28-7 to hand Memphis is 16th straight C-USA loss.
“I thought it was a great program win and a great team win for us,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. “It was a week were there were some outside influences and some negativity flowing around, and to be able to block that out I thought was big.”
Aside from his fumble, Davis was nearly flawless as he hit on 28 of his 37 pass attempts for three touchdowns, and most importantly, zero interceptions.
An offensive line that was missing starting center Doug Polochak and left guard Adhem Elsawi also came up big as they allowed zero sacks one week after letting Houston rack up nine.
Jordan Davis slid over from LT to LG to fill the void left by Elsawi, while Stephen Baker took Davis’ vacated spot and backup guard Josh Clark played center.
The makeshift line paved the way for sophomore running back Torrance Hunt to run 16 times for 98 yards and a score as the team accrued 157 rushing yards.
“Our offensive line has been a patchwork for (offensive coordinator) Lincoln (Riley) and (offensive line coach) Brandon (Jones),” McNeill said. “We had two guys that started at two positions that they never played before: Jordan Davis started at left guard and Josh was a backup tackle and guard and he started at center. The first half showed that newness that they have, and in the second half, Brandon did an excellent job of making adjustments and corrections.”
The defense, which was playing without leading tackler Jeremy Grove (shoulder), also put in a solid day’s work as it sacked Memphis three times and held the Tigers to 3-of-13 on third down conversions.
On the downside, the Pirates committed nine penalties for 92 yards.
“Penalties, I don’t need to comment on that … We have to play smart but I’m not allowed to comment on those things. I hope you can read into what I’m saying on that. That’s all I’m going to say on that,” McNeill said. “Our kids play hard, I just ask (the officials) to not take any enthusiasm from our boys. Don’t take any enthusiasm from them, they have to do their job.”
ECU’s nine penalties were double its 4.8 per game average, which is the 24th fewest in the nation.
The Pirates will have to be cautious not to give Navy any extra yardage this week, especially after the Midshipmen (2-4, independent) handed ECU one its worse losses in recent memory when they racked up 521 rushing yards in their 76-35 victory.
The loss is easily one of the worst in McNeill’s year –and-half tenure with the Pirates, but on Monday the coach said that “not one second” of this week will be about trying to get payback.
“We just have play hard,” McNeill said. “They beat us handily, but I just want us to execute on defense and take care of the ball on offense.”
Navy’s 2-4 record, like the Pirates’, may be a bit deceiving. The Midshipmen blew past Delaware and Western Kentucky in their first two games of the year, then lost a 24-21 thriller to No. 10 South Carolina before getting edged 35-34 in OT to Air Force. After that, Navy got blown out by Southern Miss 65-35, while this past Saturday it lost 21-20 to Rutgers after having an extra point blocked.
The Pirates’ injury list grew over the weekend. Defensive tackle Antonio Allison (ankle), RB Reggie Bullock (thigh), ILB Ty Holmes (wrist) and WR Danny Webster (hip) are all listed as “probable” for Saturday, while OLB Chris Baker (knee), WR Michael Bowman (ankle), OLB James Craig (knee), CB Emanuel Davis (concussion), Grove (shoulder) and DB Bill Wallace (shoulder) are listed as “questionable.” Left guard Adhem Elsawi (knee), WR Justin Jones (wrist) and C Doug Polochak will not be playing against Navy.