As Pirate fans, we all know that pressure and ECU football are not always a good match. Case in point…last week. For whatever reason, when crunch time arrives, our kids struggle mightily when there is a lot on the line even when they are the superior talent. As good as Tulane’s defense is – and they are good – we found so many ways to fail last week and yet, it took 3 OTs to finally do ourselves in proper like.
This week…there is different type of pressure. One that comes with facing a team that brings with it, a 17-game losing streak. On paper and by pretty much every measure the streak should not end in Dowdy-Ficklen tomorrow. But, there in lies the worry. Historically, our Pirates have found ways to be the brunt of the punchline when it comes to these scenarios. We have made back-up quarterbacks look like NFL pro bowlers, we have found a way to blow leads, gaff kicks, you name it, when playing a game we have no business losing.
Watching that UNC team give the No. 6 team in the nation a game last night only confounds the Pirates’ identity. How can an ECU team that thoroughly dismantled North Carolina, have played so badly in the clutch at Tulane? For the same reason UNC gave Miami game, we dropped that Tulane game…we blew it between the ears. Our kids somehow convince themselves that we just have to show up despite the reality that we have NO OPPONENTS that we can think of that way.
I know…here comes the part where I talk about how we are going to have a tough go tomorrow.
Well, just as I had a feel that last week was going to be what it was, I have the opposite feeling this week. Perhaps it is because USM has so owned us in the overall series – despite our Pirates getting the best of them over the last several years – or maybe because we are at home, whatever the reason, I am bullish on this game. Even with the depleted wide receiver corps, I think our offense is strong enough with the guys suiting up to put up points. I also think our defense is strong enough to contain USM’s offense, a unit that is really struggling to get anything going. Still, USM will be sky-high for this game and why not, road game at ECU…there isn’t a better game on the schedule for them to get up for…we will get their best and more.
Here’s how I think it goes down.
Offensively, I believe that ECU will start fast and march down the field quickly and score on first possession. Justin Hardy will be targeted early and often in this game and for the most part, I believe it will be a Shane Carden-to-Justin Hardy game plan. We need big plays from our big players. With a depleted WR corps, I think we will see more running early from Coop and Chris Hairston even if the Golden Eagles sell out to stop the run. And, I think the offense delivers throughout the day with the home crowd demanding compensation for last week’s loss. With the USM defense giving up 50+ points to Nebraska and Boise State, there is no reason on earth that we shouldn’t be in that same neighborhood – unless we fall victim to our penchant to play at the level of our opponent. And, our OL needs to prove that they belong at a high level. Southern Miss will be bringing the house every play (ala Tulane) because they know if they cannot pressure Carden, he will kill them all day. If our OL cannot man up and protect, we could be scratching our heads during this game. I think the OL shows up and spades tomorrow.
Defensively, I see our kids growing more confident every week and with an offense that is struggling, I think that Coach Rick Smith turns up the heat early, challenging our front seven, particularly the defensive line to get some early pressure on struggling QB Allen Bridgford. Bridgford has thrown a ton of picks this season already and the Pirates have a front that can force bad decisions, particularly with a porous OL like USM has currently. On the flip side, our D must be prepared for anything from the Southern Miss offense. There is nothing to lose when you haven’t won a game in two years, so if our kids are not bringing it on every play, they could give up a TD or two on plays that should never happen. That said, I think the D will do two things tomorrow: 1) get a lot of pressure on the QB; 2) give the offense a short field (which means, yes, I believe we play better 3rd down defense than we have all season).
Overall, unlike Tulane, I really cannot see any match up that favors USM tomorrow and really do not think that they have enough horses on either side of the ball to knock us out tomorrow. Strange things happen when ECU is in the mix, but I am thinking a convincing win to get the kids back on track and headed in the right direction.
How are you guys feeling?