No room for error

Published 9:51 pm Friday, November 18, 2011

Tonight East Carolina will look to keep its bowl hopes alive as it battles C-USA rival Central Florida at 7 p.m. (AP Photo)

GREENVILLE — There is no more room for mistakes for East Carolina as it faces a must-win situation tonight against Central Florida as the Pirates need to not only beat the Knights, but top Marshall in next week’s season finale to keep their hopes of playing in a bowl game alive.
East Carolina (4-6, 3-3) squandered its chance to take a Conference USA East Division lead when it allowed Southern Miss to score four non-offensive touchdowns as the Eagles moved into the driver’s seat with a 48-28 victory.
That loss shifted the team’s priorities from battling for a C-USA East title to trying to extend its school-record streak of five straight bowl games to six. However, with the Pirates 22-17 loss to UTEP last week, that streak is in serious jeopardy as they face a Knights team that at 4-6 (2-4) is also fighting for bowl eligibility.
The magnitude of tonight’s game increases for the East Carolina seniors who will be playing their final game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and would love nothing more than to go out as winners.
East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill, who was a defensive back for the Pirates from 1976-79, said that all of those factors should make for an intense game day atmosphere.
“I think about my last time playing inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. You’re going to be emotional. I talked to the team about it (Sunday) during our meeting. I talked about how it’s Senior Week and we need to send them off the right way by becoming bowl eligible and heading to a bowl,” McNeill said. “It’s also big for our program. We need to finish off the year strong. It’s for the seniors, but it’s for the program, too.”
The program took a step back last week when it took a 17-16 lead over the Miners into the fourth quarter but watched it disappear as running back Joe Banyard ripped off a 77-yard touchdown run to put UTEP on top with 7:04 left in the game.
East Carolina could not manufacture any offense in the fourth quarter and threw an interception on its final drive of the game to seal its fate.
Turnovers have been a huge problem this year for the Pirates as they lead the FBS in that category thanks to 13 lost fumbles and 16 intercepted passes.
In 2010, quarterback Dominique Davis threw for a school-record 3,967 yards, 37 TDs and was intercepted 16 times. This year, Davis has tallied 2,737 yards and 18 TD passes and has already been picked off 15 times with two games left to play.
There is no doubt that the mass amount of injuries and shuffling along the offensive line and in the backfield has had a negative affect on Davis, but the bottom line is that the senior QB must make better decisions with the ball.
“I just try to do too much sometimes and take too many chances,” Davis said. “The chances I have been taking, I just haven’t been getting lucky.”
If they get lucky tonight, Davis and the rest of the ECU offense may get some additional help with the return of some key injured players.
RB Michael Dobson, who was listed as questionable after sustaining a concussion against UTEP, seems likely to play and did participated sparingly in practice this week.
Leading rusher Reggie Bullock (thigh), who has missed three straight games, is listed as doubtful and as of Wednesday his chances of playing did not seem too optimistic.
Dobson’s status is critical for the Pirates because if he can’t go against UCF it leaves ECU with only one playmaker in the backfield in sophomore Torrance Hunt. Fullback/tight end Zico Pasut, who got is first career carry last week, is the only other back on the roster.
East Carolina’s best offensive weapon, 6-3 senior WR Lance Lewis (60 rec, 600 yards, 8 TD) will also likely be on the shelf for a third straight game. However, McNeill did say he attempted to practice this week.
That offense will face a Knights’ defense that is the best in the conference as it ranks No. 1 in scoring defense (16.8 ppg), rush defense (105.4 ypg) and pass defense (188.2 ypg). That unit is led by star safety Kemal Ishmael, who was a first team preseason all-conference selection along with cornerback Josh Robinson.
The Knights’ offense strikes behind three talented, physical running backs in Brynn Harvey (570 yards), Ronnie Weaver (290) and Latavius Murray (229).
UCF coach George O’Leary has used two QBs this year, shuffling between dual-threat sophomore Jeffrey Godfrey and pocket passer freshman Blake Bortles.
Godfrey guided the team to a C-USA championship last year and has racked up 1,745 passing yards and is second on the team with 389 rushing yards. Godfrey has 9 TD runs, which is the same amount as all the ECU running backs combined.
Bortles has taken fewer snaps than Godfrey, but has completed 70 percent of his passes for 702 yards.
The electric Godfrey has the ability to terrify a defense because even if all his receivers he can run for a first down and more.
“(He) does a combination of option, lead draws and scrambling,”
ECU defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell said. “You do have to account for him and we have some things in our scheme that will account for him.”
Mitchell said the bottom line is his defense must stop the run, no matter who is getting the carries.
“First and foremost we have to stop that run, that’s something we didn’t do last year,” Mitchell said. “We have try and make them a one dimensional team, and from there you have to stop them from scrambling all over the place.”