Pirates turn eyes to South Carolina

Published 6:35 pm Monday, September 3, 2012

East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill speaks during a press conference on Monday. McNeill and the Pirates will take on No. 9 South Carolina this weekend. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — The Pirates used a strong second half to secure a 35-13 season-opening win over Appalachian State over the weekend, but this Saturday it will take a near flawless efort to keep the zero in their loss column as they travel to South Carolina to face the ninth-ranked Gamecocks.
South Carolina (1-0, SEC) heads into the matchup having topped Vanderbilt 17-13 in its season opener on Thursday as Heisman hopeful running back Marcus Lattimore looked strong in his return from ACL surgery as he ran the ball 21 time for 110 yards and two scores.
Gamecocks’ quarterback Connor Shaw, who went 7-for-11 for 67 yards while rushing for 92 yards on 14 attempts, bruised his shoulder in second quarter of the opener but returned in the second half to lead his team to victory.
On Saturday, it was reported that Shaw could barely raise his right arm and USC coach Steve Spurrier said “It’s a wait and see” situation. However, East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill is fully expecting to see Shaw take snaps on Saturday when the two teams kickoff at 12:21 p.m.
“Connor Shaw will be playing. He’s a football player, a coach’s kid,” McNeill said.
If Shaw doesn’t play, Dylan Thompson or Seth Strickland will take his place and McNeill said that regardless of who lines up behind center the South Carolina offensive philosophy won’t vary much.
“They don’t change their offense with either quarterback,” McNeill said. “They play three quarterbacks. … All three quarterbacks are dual threats and have designed run plays and still throw the football.”
That offense will present a big challenge to an ECU defense that could be without senior nose guard Michael Brooks, as the preseason all-Conference USA selection left midway through the App State game with a knee injury and was listed as “doubtful” for Saturday’s game.
If Brooks can’t go, 6-2, 252-pound redshirt freshman Terrell Stanley, who had one tackle and a fumble recovery against the Mountaineers, is expected to get the starting nod.
“Terrell has great strength and hands and was a playmaker coming out of high school,” McNeill said. “He did a good job of holding his gap and trusting his technique (against the Mountaineers).”

While the extreme heat took its toll on spectators Saturday East Carolina quarterback Rio Johnson kept his cool in his first-ever start as he connected on 28 of his 43 pass attempts for 242 yards and two touchdowns, while being intercepted once on a tipped pass.
On Monday, McNeill said after reevaluating the game film that what impressed him most about Johnson was his ability to stay levelheaded.
“He was poised on the sideline, he never blinked and stayed confident,” McNeill said. “He got his rhythm late towards the end of the game and checked us into the correct play about  as high (of a percentage) that I’ve been around for a first time quarterback and that goes back to Graham Harrell and those guys.”

Right tackle Robert Jones made his first start of his East Carolina career against Appalachian State and gave a quality effort as the Pirates’ offensive line did not allow Johnson to get sacked all game and helped the running backs rush for a combined 148 rushing yards.
“Robert did a good job in his first start. He’s got good feet and he’s athletic,” McNeill said. “I expect he’ll get better with having more confidence and not thinking so much and that comes with reps. Robert’s had a very good spring and fall camp.”
Jones took the place of two-year starter Grant Harner, who is still working towards being 100 percent healthy, and this Saturday will face a tremendous challenge as he will lock horns with South Carolina’s star sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and senior Devin Taylor.
Standing at 6-6, 256-pounds, Clowney is an athletic freak who racked up eight sacks as a freshman en route to being named the SEC Freshman of the Year along with landing a spot on several freshman all-American teams, while the 6-8, 267-pound Taylor is a former all-SEC performer.
On Saturday Jones will likely get a chance to face both.
“They move them. Taylor a lot of times is to our offensive right, so (Jones) will see Taylor a little bit more, but they move Clowney around a lot. He’s mobile and agile enough to do it,” McNeill said. “Those guys play really well and use their hands very well.”

East Carolina only had one addition to the injury list this week in NG Michael Brooks (knee). Brooks is listed as “doubtful” for Saturday’s game but McNeill was expecting to get an update on his condition on Monday night.
Brooks is joined on the list by OLB Montese Overton (concussion), who is listed as “doubtful,” and CB Leonard Paulk, who is tabbed as “questionable” with a knee injury.
The Pirates will add depth to the wide receiver position this week as Danny Webster, Antonio Cannon and Dayon Arrington are all back after serving a one-game suspension for violating team rules.