ECU’s defense hopes to continue plaguing quarterbacks

Published 4:49 pm Friday, November 4, 2016

GREENVILLE — East Carolina’s four-sack performance against Connecticut Saturday lifted a proverbial monkey of its back, and gave the defense a much-needed confidence boost heading into the stretch run of the season.

Going into the game against UConn, ECU registered just one sack all season. The statistic was among the nation’s worst, and the defense as a whole paid for the lack of pressure.

A blitz-heavy game plan from defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson made all the difference last week.

“Coach Thompson did a really good job of dialing up some exotic blitzes,” said linebacker Jordan Williams, who had a sack of his own against the Huskies. “It was the execution of guys knowing where to go instead of freelancing. We have everything dialed up for this (Tulsa) game.”

For each sack against the Huskies, a different Pirate player was in on the hit. DaShaun Amos, Dayon Pratt and freshman cornerback Colby Gore all registered a sack. The variety of players perhaps shows a willingness by Thompson to bring pressure from unusual spots. But it can even be attributed to a rotation of players, which Thompson said allows ECU to stay fresh.

“It gives us the ability to play more guys, because when you play these up-tempo teams, they play fast and you get worn out and make mental mistakes,” he said. “If we can stay fresh and execute, we feel like we have a chance.”

A four-sack performance against UConn won’t help the team run the table on the brink of bowl elimination. While it was a starting point, the real challenge is duplicating the performance.

“We feel like the expectations have gone up,” Thompson said. “When the expectations go up, we’re going to have to respond and be even better. They can see the results of their hard work, and the only thing they can do is continue to work“I think anytime you can have some early success, you can build off that. But they understand it’s only going to get tougher and we have to turn it up a notch to go on the road and get the win.”

It’s no secret that putting pressure on the opposing quarterback helps the defense as a whole. It buys more time for secondary defenders and forces the quarterback into quicker throws. While that much is obvious, it’s also been a struggle for the Pirates all season long.

Part of that can be attributed to the plethora of running quarterbacks and spread offense ECU has faced, but that should only show up in a lack of sacks, not a lack of consistent pressure. Williams knows that pressure leads to sacks and, in turn the, defense collectively benefits.

“We made a point of that,” Williams said. “We need to get to the quarterback and that’s something we’ve focused on. We still need to get more sacks.”

Pratt, meanwhile, thinks improved execution led to the big game against UConn. He said with the pressure now off the defenses shoulders, it can apply it to opposing quarterbacks and keep the team’s bowl dreams alive.

“We were low with our pad level and executed more,” Pratt said “There were still a few mistakes, but if we can correct those, there’s no telling how good this defense can be.”