ECU to take on No. 9 South Carolina
GREENVILLE — East Carolina got off to a slow start before it eventually imposed its will on Appalachian State to win 35-13 over the traditional FCS power in last week’s season opener.
Today, the Pirates (1-0, Conference USA) will not be afforded the luxury of having a quarter to acclimate themselves to the competition as they hit the road to face a South Carolina (1-0, SEC) team that is ranked No. 9 in the nation and is coming off of a 17-13 season-opening win over Vanderbilt.
“We need to start faster than we did (last) Saturday,” East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “We got to get going quicker, especially being on the road. We need to take the air out of that stadium quickly. That’s always big.”
Just as big is a Gamecock’s defensive line that features two monster defensive ends in 6-6, 256-pound true sophomore Jadeveon Clowney and 6-8, 267-pound senior Devin Taylor, both of which have a future playing on Sundays.
Clowney, the 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year, and Taylor, who has earned all-SEC honors the past two seasons, will clash with an ECU offensive line that is not nearly as highly decorated and led by preseason all-Conference USA guard Will Simmons.
The key matchups will take place on the edges as junior 6-5, 312-pound left tackle Adhem Elsawi will face Clowney most of the day, while 6-3, 309-pound defensive lineman-turned-right guard Robert Jones will see a ton of Taylor in just his second start of his career.
“It’s a challenge, there’s no question,” Riley said. “Everybody’s just got to be a little bit better. They have to understand that against guys that are this talented your mistakes are going to be magnified.”
Quarterback Rio Johnson made the first start of his career last week and hit on 28 of his 43 pass attempts for 242 yards, one INT and two TDs. Johnson’s accuracy was off on a few deep passes and Riley compared Johnson’s outing to a pitcher who goes out and gets a win despite not having his best stuff.
He will need his best stuff today as ECU must take advantage of a USC secondary that will be playing without three of its four starting DBs from a year ago.
ECU is deepest at the WR position with a bevy of pass catchers of all shapes and sizes and that must be able to win their one-on-one battles.
“That will be a big matchup,” Riley said. “They try and keep things pretty simple up front but the big thing is we can’t let them get pressure just bringing four. We’ve got to make them blitz to get pressure and if we can do that, then it does come down to those one-on-one battles in the secondary and that’s where we have to win. Just flat-out win.”
The Pirates’ defense faces a tremendous challenge as it must contain Heisman hopefully junior RB Marcus Lattimore. In 2011, Lattimore rushed for over 800 yards and 10 TDs in just seven games before tearing the ACL in his left knee.
In his first game back from the injury, Lattimore ran for 110 yards and two TDs against Vandy.
“His vision to make the cut before the cut even happens is his greatest asset,” ECU defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell said. “He can make you miss in a very tight phone booth.”
South Carolina’s win over the Commodores was costly as QB Connor Shaw had to leave the game in the second quarter after sustaining a deep bruise on his right shoulder. Shaw checked back into the game in the third quarter and whether or not he starts today will be a game-time decision. Sophomore Dylan Thompson is expected to get the starting nod if Shaw can’t go.
ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill, who fully expects Shaw to play, said that no matter who takes the snaps his team must be prepared to face a USC offense drawn up by head coach Steve Spurrier that features a ton of designed runs for its QBs.
The Pirates defense looked sharp in its 2012 debut as it held App State to 4-of-15 on third downs and created three turnovers, one of which was a fumble return for a score.
That unit will be challenged up front as NG Michael Brooks is sidelined due to a knee injury and will be replaced by RS freshman Terrell Stanley.