Running toward redemption
Published 9:30 pm Wednesday, October 31, 2012
GREENVILLE — The frightening statistics seemed ironically fitting being that they came during the Halloween season.
But after getting tricked by Navy’s triple-option attack to the tune of 512 rushing yards and 32 first downs, the Pirates are looking to treat fans to a redeeming defensive effort when they return to Conference USA play this weekend at home against Houston.
“We’re using last week as motivation,” East Carolina middle linebacker Jeremy Grove said. “The last two practices have been great. Our thing is that we have to run to the ball and give great effort, and if you can’t then the next guy is going to come in and do it for you.”
The Pirates (5-4, 4-1) featured the 32nd ranked run defense in the nation before facing a Midshipmen offense that ran roughshod all over Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium during their 56-28 victory last Saturday.
The thumping defeat brought back memories of 2010 when Navy racked up a Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium record 521 rushing yards en route to a 76-35 beatdown.
With a new defensive scheme in place, and more experienced players to run it, the Pirates had the opportunity to show just how far they have come since 2010, but missed out on that chance with every missed tackle.
It was a performance that left defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell as puzzled as the fans who watched it.
“The same scheme that we ran another team ran the very same day against the very same option attack and held it to 17 points. It befuddles me,” Mitchell said.
The Pirates have sprinkled in preparation for the option since the summer time, but as the players found out on Saturday, facing a scout team that runs the option is entirely different then defending a Navy team that does it for a living.
One of the biggest issues for ECU was that its players got caught taking bad paths to the ball, something Mitchell said stemmed from them pausing a split second to think instead of react.
“One thing I will say is that our kids were hesitant,” Mitchell said. “They didn’t trigger as fast as they should have and having probably six guys seeing the option and in key positions for the first time (in a game) is why we were hesitant. Your angles suffer when you hesitate.”
The Pirates have faced a bevy of spread teams this year and are not expected to have the same problems this Saturday as they take on the Cougars (4-4, 3-1).
“We’re used to it,” Mitchell said. “We’re facing different schemes week in and week out and there’s some carry over from other games where we can take things from our toolbox into this week.”
One thing that sets the Cougars apart from other spread teams is that they have tremendous balance.
Sophomore quarterback David Piland is second in Conference USA in passing yards with 2,438, while junior running back Charles Sims leads the league in rushing yards per game (116) and all-purpose yards (1,145).
“We see the spread offense year-round between our offense and most of the teams we play, but Houston is one of the best at running it,” Grove said. “They have great athletes and they can run and pass.”
With five wins under their belts the Pirates are on the cusp of bowl eligibility, but for the second week in a row they must contain a strong rushing attack to achieve it. Navy is in the past, but the defense can make a run toward redemption Saturday by stopping the Cougars from running the football.