Ready for Round 2

Published 9:04 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2011

East Carolina defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell (center) and the Pirates defense will look to avenge last year’s 76-35 loss to Navy when they travel to Annapolis to battle the Midshipmen on Saturday. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — The Pirates are insisting that Saturday’s game with Navy isn’t about payback or redemption, but rather just another opportunity to get a win.
For those that don’t remember, or choose not to, East Carolina was coming off of a loss to eventual Conference USA champions UCF, but at 5-3, still felt optimistic about the season. However, the sun didn’t shine as bright after Navy came to town and racked up 521 rushing yards as the Midshipmen broke a record for the most points scored at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in their 76-35 victory.
The loss changed the complexion of the season as the Pirates went on to lose three of their final four games to end the year with a 6-7 record.
Maybe this year’s game can have the opposite effect.
Heading into Saturday’s matchup, East Carolina (2-4) has already had its share of struggles, and who knows, maybe a win over the Navy (2-4) can propel the Pirates as they head into the softer portion of their schedule.
The impact from the 2010 loss to the Midshipmen reverberated way beyond just that Saturday afternoon, as the blowout was a contributing factor in the team’s decision to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense.
Playing Navy without defensive ends Justin Dixon and Marke Powell, as well as defensive tackle Michael Brooks, who were all out with injuries, head coach Ruffin McNeill and defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell started to come to the conclusion that their players did not fit their scheme.
“When we lost all those D-linemen the first thought that came to my mind is that we don’t have enough D-linemen in this program to run a 4-3,” Mitchell said. “And that was probably the onset of us going to a 3-4. (The Navy) loss could be a contributing factor because we were looking around and the best teams that defended Navy were 3-4 teams.”
At halftime of that game East Carolina trailed by a slim 28-21 deficit, but four third-quarter fumbles sunk any chance the Pirates had top the Midshipmen. A young, undersized front-seven got bullied by Navy as fullback Alexander Teich ran for 157 yards and a touchdown on only 14 carries.
Despite all the potential excuses, Mitchell put the blame for the loss squarely on his shoulders.
“I didn’t get it right, that’s the only thing I remember,” Mitchell said. “The points show it. I didn’t have enough for our kids to go to as a changeup. We were limited with the calls we had and I just didn’t have enough of a changeup for these kids to have a competitive advantage to win.”
Aside from not having enough calls, the Pirates simply didn’t have enough experience in their front seven. Sometimes a young team just had to take its lumps.
“The frustrating part is that you want these kids to do well, and when they don’t do well, they come looking for answers and sometimes the answer is just experience and maturity,” Mitchell said. “You can’t sprinkle any magic dust on these kids to get them to feel better about things. Having faced Navy last year and having put in a plan from spring to now, I think these kids have a better idea of how Navy is going to attack us.”
The Midshipmen are a triple-option, under-center team that features a running quarterback, two slotbacks and a fullback. Generally, handing off to the fullback up the middle is the first option, but if the quarterback keeps the ball he can choose to either run himself or pitch to a slotback for the second and third options, respectively. Mitchell said the key to slowing down Navy is to cut back on some of their options by stopping Teich, the fullback.
“That’s our game plan, we want to make sure the fullback doesn’t rush for 157 yards like he did last year,” Mitchell said. “You want to make them a one dimensional team. You take away the fullback and then the quarterback is the probably the second biggest factor in all this. We want to make the game a perimeter game because more mistakes can happen when they pitch.”
No matter how the ECU defense does on Saturday Mitchell said it will be judged on only one statistic.
“The barometer is if we get that win,” Mitchell said. “We’re trying to get to 3-4 and that’s the most important thing right now.”