I received an email from a good friend and former standout ECU football player today (no names), but his comments really focused me on my thoughts for this post. I’ll give my good, bad and ugly for the USC loss but first I wanted to share some thoughts on the state of the team in general, IMO, based on what I watched Saturday and on many exchanges I have had right after the game through today with former players and others close to the program.
I think for must of us, it is safe to say that the loss to South Carolina is a major disappointment, not so much in that we lost the game, but rather, how we lost. The Gamecocks are most likely a legitimate contender for the SEC meaning that they are a contender for the national title. They are indeed, as my Bonesville colleague Denny O’Brien discussed in his recent offering, way ahead of us on an athlete scale. They have the big guns and it was obvious.
However, that we played so poorly on our own merit is the thing that is most disappointing. Yes, the kids played hard for the whole game. But, our team seemed to be surprised by many of the things going on on the field. We seemed ill-prepared for a passing attack. We seem ill-prepared for a quarterback switch.
Via a discussion I had with said former football player, he brought my attention to the Appy game again. So, I re-rewatched it. In re-watching it again, from the perspective my friend pointed out, it is clear that Appy was much better prepared to play against the spread we run than we were. They always had defensive coverage players right where they needed to be…every play. AND, they tackled in space with precision.
Contrast that with our defense that should be well versed in the spread, thereby making covering it so much easier. App had no problem completing passes because we constantly were not in position. Guys were wide open. And, we missed tackles.
Now we can say that part of that in the SC game was their overall talent versus ours, but does that hold true vs ASU? Not likely. So, my thoughts turn to preparation. Now, one of the reasons that USC was able to cover with 6 in the box against us was more because we were running the ball at all. Pretty easy to load up on the short routes and let all-America ends have at it. I don’t see us not running because they had 6 in the box. I think we threw all the time because we were down before we could even sit in our seats and we started going air crazy.
Am I dropping expectations for the season? Not yet. I do think this team can recover. SC was BY FAR the best team on the schedule this year so we should be in the remaining games, but we better be fundamentally prepared better AND have a plan B if things do go well. I have never really felt good about our current staff when it comes to working off the script…adjustments are not seemingly the strong suit.
Conference games start this week…and there is none bigger or more important that USM. Better get it fixed or this team could come apart.
Well…let’s take a look at the Good, Bad, and Ugly from the SC game.
Let’s start with the good, IMO, and there was some of it.
The Good Stuff:
1. The Receiving Corps: You can pin the loss on pretty much every group on the field, but – save a true freshman fumble – you cannot really fault the receivers. Man…they were open all over the field and from the outset, too. Good Lord watch the tape…these guys are good and can catch. But, the ball has to go to the right guy and has to be within his reach. It was good to see Danny Webster and Dayon Arrington back in the mix. And Justin Hardy…man he is just amazing. He needs to stay healthy. Also, I think Vintavious Cooper is going to be special given his hands and toughness at RB.
2. The Offensive Line: They did well given the caliber of players they were facing. Save Adhem Elsawi who had the unenviable task of trying to contain Clowney (I know, Adhem got whipped a few times), the unit as a whole really did provide plenty of throwing lanes and time for the QBs. Not sure if they did well in the run blocking because we didn’t run much.
3. Punting: Trent Tignor was kicking the hell out of that football again. Nice to see another big legged punter out there. A 46.4 yard per kick average is awesome. Coverage unit did allow that 28 yard return, but otherwise, was not really tested in this game.
4. Very few penalties: Once again, very few penalties for the Pirates (1 for 5 yards).
5. Shane Carden: Despite a first pass interception, Carden got his chance and looked pretty good. SC had its big dogs in the game still and he seemed to do a couple things pretty well: 1) work the pocket and 2) FIND THE OPEN receiver. He showed that he can make the passes needed. Perhaps he will be the catalyst for a change going forward.
The Bad Stuff:
1. Pressure improved, but we did not finish: Our defensive front started to get very good pressure on SC and even produced 3 sacks…BUT…they also allowed the quarterback to get away on 4 other occasions and each time, the QB torched us. Those could have been game changers early on. We can create pressure, but it is not helpful if we do not finish.
2. Tackling: Related to the inability to finish the sack, our tackling looked sloppy. Missed tackles, out of position, not wrapping up.
3. Field Goal Kicking: I was very happy that Warren Harvey finally connected on a field goal. Hopefully it will be the ignition in a string of makes now. BUT, 1-4 is not acceptable for the Pirates…need to split the posts.
4. Rio Johnson: Decision-making and accuracy were not very good for Rio this game. He missed several passes – like he did against ASU – and despite having time to pass, seemed unable to find the best open receiver on a given play. The INTs were killers. Hopefully he can watch the USM game from the sideline and it will help him take another step forward in his development.
5. Special Teams: I understand letting Lance Ray take a couple of shots at a return given his talent, but after a couple, maybe taking the ball on the 25-yard line wouldn’t be a bad idea.
1. Turnovers: Wow…I didn’t think it would be possible for us to turn the ball over 5 times in a game again…but we did. You can’t beat many teams when you do that. The INTs were all bad ones, too. Locking on to one guy, throwing into double-coverage when you have another guy wide open, and also just plan missing your guy. Frustrating.
2. Pass coverage: Is it just me, or does it look like our linebackers have no pass coverage responsiblities? They are nowhere to be found. You can almost see no Pirates in the frame on some of the completions SC had. Further, our corners don’t seem to be able to stay with their guys….like they are looking into the backfield and forgetting the receivers. I wonder if it is scheme related. ASU seemed to be very good at this…but we need help here.
3. Play calling on offense: Yes, we ended up running at a 2-1 clip passes to runs, but not at the start of the game…in fact in the first half, we passed the ball 26 times and rushed three times. So, I am not sure how we concluded that we couldn’t run the ball…we didn’t try.
4. The Defense gave up 500+ yards of total offense, marking two straight games allowing 400 yards ore more a game, with a heavy majority of it to the passing yards allowed. This is a worrisome development for a defense that we all thought was going to improve from last year.
Now the Pirates are at a crossroads for the season. We are 1-1 with a critical road game in CUSA up next with USM. USM consistently plays well against the Pirates and will be starting a new QB (will this invoke the back-up QB curse for the Pirates). It is a road game, too.
Will this team get their back up and show that they are better than that mess in Columbia? Will Shane Carden prove to be the playmaker many feel he is?
Can the defense look like a top 50 unit again?
A ton is riding on this one. Conference USA, bowl game implications, winning season, coaching hot seat, fan interest…team really needs to get this thing going and show that they can be a contender for CUSA East.
What say you, friends?
Go Pirates, Go!