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Pirates Special Teams could be Special

Great debut…Trent Tignor came out of the gate kicking like a veteran.

OK…so I am a little psycho about ECU football…so, know that when I say that I just finished watching the game for a third time. And, yes, I did it with the remote in hand and my thumb on the super slow motion function button.

Let’s focus on Special Teams a bit. I was just reading our good friend Nate Summers piece on how the Pirates displayed a complete team on Saturday – all three phases. Nate’s right, on the whole, whether or not we pick out areas of concern – which are legitimate – the Pirates showed three units that came to work and look to be well established.

As Old Pirate noted in his comment to my post game analysis post yesterday, there are some realities about Appalachian State that should make those of us who are skeptical about certain aspects of our team following the decisive 35-13 win on Saturday.

The core part of OP’s post:

Some food for thought.

A lot of the things mentioned are accurate, Rio was nervous then settled in, think back to your first day of work how nervous you had been that day. Rio will improve and the way he lead the offense in that heat was impressive, even when the Pirates struggled I. The first half he kept his composure and played effectively

What a lot of people don’t understand though is that the gap between FBS(1-A) and FCS(1-AA) is closing fast the only real difference between top tier FCS schools and mid major conference teams is the number of scholarships available to FCS teams. Teams like ECU and other CUSA, MAC, and Mountain West teams are having to. Impede. It only with BCS AQ schools for talent,but also these top tier FCS schools. Appalachian State is and has been one of the fastest teams in the FCS over recent years. On top of that they have been disciplined, well coach and competitive. The kids at Appalachian don’t shy away from playing the big boys. They have played LSU twice, ECU twice, Va. Tech, NC State, and Michigan over the past seven years, the staff and players know that they must be focused in order to compete on the same level that these teams play on week in and week out. Appalachian has had athletes over the last seven years with Kevin Richardson, Armanti Edwards, Richie Williams, Cortez Gilbert, Brian Quick, Dexter Jackson, Travaris Cadet(who nearly beat ECU three years ago) and Corey Lynch just to name a few who have played or practiced at the next level.

Remember there was a reason why Wake Forest said that they didn’t want to play Appalchian any more after the 2003 season.

The key point here, is that ASU fielded some very legitimate Athletes. They have a program who were worthy of inclusion in CUSA and frankly would have probably progressed quickly to top level (ala Marshall when they first came up).  As such, their athleticism is not far off from what the Pirates will see each week – give or take elite level athletes at a couple of the schools we face.

With that in mind, it allows us to focus on what we saw from each of the units. Today, in this post, I want to talk about the Special Teams.

In general, on Saturday, we saw Special Teams units that – generally – were very good technically. Starting with the Kick Coverage units. The Punt and Kickoff coverage units, IMO, absolutely killed us last season, so I watched them – all three times I have watched the game – very closely.

Whether Kirk Doll is a coaching phenom or simply a great motivator with an eye for talent, regardless, the coverage units looked fast, disciplined, and possessed with destroying the return man. Though they only had a few opportunities to make a play (punts and kick-offs in the endzone), the opportunities they had, they were good. This is a big step forward.

Turning attention to the return units….well…hard to argue with a 90-yard TD return (Thanks BWP!) and a beautiful 41 yard punt return from Justin Hardy (go to the 1:40 mark) as not being evidence enough of the unit’s talents, but there is a more there to it. First, that we have settled on very good return men with good hands in Hardy and Ray (and throw in Hunter Furr as well on KOR), is such a relief at positions that were largely in flux all of 2011. Moreover, if you watch the videos, you see outstanding blocking not just at point of initial contact, but all the way down the field. Both returns saw a large, clear lane established, allowing Ray and Hardy to do what they do well, make random tacklers miss and hit the gas.

Now, let’s go to Punting and Place kicking. On the punting front, Trent Tignor was excellent. Not just because he averaged 40+ yards per punt (which is already a lot to be pleased with) but that each kick, he demonstrated that he was improving. When he had to rekick the short field punt following a penalty, he was able to land the ball at the 5 yard line rather than directly in the end zone. Yes, it did go into the end zone, but our team had a chance to kill it. That is all they are asking for. The snapping was excellent – good job by Charlie Coggins and the blocking solid.

OK…yes, Warren Harvey has a big goose egg on two attempts and that is unacceptable…those six points – at some point – will mean the difference between victory and defeat. The snap, blocking, and hold all appeared routine and his kicks were strong enough and sound in technique…he just missed them. That said, there is no doubt about his leg…he has a strong one. Perhaps it was first game nerves, playing at home in front of everyone he knows, who knows. The misses are correctable and I suspect he will be very good over the long haul. He has a big game coming up to rectify any and all doubts about his abilities and I am sure that for all the good things that special teams did, Coach Doll will likely have this facet No. 1 on his list for this week. Get it right.

Overall, that the Special Teams units are NOT a negative through Game 1 is a big POSITIVE for this team who, while Rio Johnson and the OL improve, will need to get an edge in field position and points by any means necessary.

What say you my Pirates Brothers & Sisters?

6 comments on “Pirates Special Teams could be Special

  1. Mike in Durham

    Good analysis as always RC (& OP too).
    Special Teams has gone from a liability last yr, to a solid unit. This is due to IMHO:1) Coach Doll, better coaching; 2) Better athletes on coverage teams, guys like Bigger who want on the field & want to blow someone up or post a ‘do not enter’ sign in their blocking lane, same for Furr, Hunt & others like Cody Lyon; 3) Better return men, Hardy, Ray, & Furr, throw in Webster & Jabril, no contest vs last yr, & 4) upgrade in punting, Trent is solid & he has a good backup, last yr our punting was a disaster. Warren will start hitting the FGs soon, he did a good job on kickoffs. A little nervous having Hardy return punts, hate to leave our best WR out there taking hits, would rather see one of the others mentioned…but on Special Teams, ‘in Doll I trust’.
    Thanks RC, Mike

    • Well said MiD…Thanks for dropping in on the discussion.

      I am mixed on Hardy at PR as well, BUT…we are so deep at receiver and obviously he provides some serious PR abilities, so I suppose the upside is greater than the risk.

      Go Pirates, go!

      • what is this mentality that it was good that the coaches stayed with Rio…what would have been wrong with seeing what Carden could do …he may have been better but we will never know with this coaching staff because they are grading on how they look on the side line, baloney, what do they look like on the field…i can see it next week…we were down 14 or 21 or 35,but Rio was really impressive on the sideline. all those big misses in the first half could have cost us the game. at least have the courage to call it like it is. another thing ,why didn’t we see Furr in the backfield until the last three plays? do you think all the boos were directed at the hot weather..wake up, when a player is not producing substitute, you just may find a star… you will never know until you do.

      • …rc…thanks for the additional thoughts.

        I agree with your last comment that teams in a QB dilemma often establish a QB rotation until one breaks away and I would have been more than happy to see it here. As I said in my reply to your earlier comment, Shane looked pretty good in his one play…looked like the playmaker his teammates have indicated he is.

        I would love to see him get a chance and not after we are down 2 or 3 TDs in a game. I hope that the plan is for him to come in at first sign of distress in Rio.

        That said, I can also understand why they stuck with Rio as a philosophy. IF they were being straight with all of us, then the two QB system seems to make sense. BUT, if they internally were saying that Rio is better than Shane, then their move would be to let Rio get over 1st half of 1st start in a game we are leading to see if he comes out of it. They are saying that he did by leading the team to the decisive win. HOWEVER, if film indicates otherwise and they do not ramp up Carden to be ready for next week, then they are not very good coaches…right? Which I think is your bigger point. I have always been one to say as much as I love Ruff for what he represents, he should be on the hot seat this season. I know others do not feel this way, but these are mostly his players and this is season 3 following two losing campaigns. So, he will live/die by his decisions and if playing one QB over the other in defiance of the film, then well…you know.

        On Furr…like I said in my previous response to you…I am really lost on that one…expected to see him a lot in the backfield. Honestly, gonna need his size/speed next week…IMO.

        Let’s see how it goes.

        Again…keep the commentary coming RC…it is really good to hear varying opinions from another diehard Pirate.


  2. Pharma..have you read the article by USM’s coach. to me he is smart to continue the battle of his qbacks. we are blessed to have the talent at that position,but our coaches let our season depend on the only qback that gets the opportunity on gameday…who knows what each of these guys could do to help this team…there is another aspect of this decision and that is the possibility of more thought, it was said of Nicklaus that if you saw him on the practice tee you would not even consider him in the top echelon of tour golfers but when the tournament started he was great… which brings to mind what a great job Mcphaul is doing with our golf team..if people have not been paying attention,ECU is ranked above some of the great programs including UNC and WFU. thanks

    • Hey rc…I did not read that article yet, but it makes sense to me. I will support Rio every snap he takes, but I have a gut feeling that Carden truly is a Favre like player. Hope we see him on the field if Rio falters AND before things are out of reach.

      On the golf, I knew ECU was building a great team, but was not aware of just how good they are under Mcphaul. Gonna start taking a closer look.

      Keep sharing rc…love the perspective.

      Go Pirates, go!

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