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Buc up Pirates: All is not lost…Sometimes, a visit to the woodshed has unexpected results

Despite Marshall taking the Pirates to the woodshed, the Pirate world is NOT turned upside down.
Despite Marshall taking the Pirates to the woodshed, the Pirate world is NOT turned upside down.

I have to admit…watching Marshall take our team to the woodshed on Friday shook me up and I was having a hard time putting this year’s team into perspective. Are we real good? Do we suck? Is it a talent thing? Is it a desire thing?

But, a weekend without college football sometimes is just what the doctor ordered to gain true perspective…at least for me on this one.

Look…Marshall took it to our kids in every phase of the game and clearly was the better team on Friday, deserved to win the game and hence, the division. I will pull for the Herd to win out the season. Could I produce a laundry list of items to point to how two teams so seemingly even in every facet of the game could end up with a result so lopsided? Yeppers…got a lot of reasons, but I will roll them all up into two predominant ones: 1) bad game plan; 2) lower quantity of “want” power. Back to those two items momentarily.

First, like most of you…I had an emotional crash after the game. I read the BB and some of the other sources of venting around the good ol’ net and saw that I was not alone in feeling the pain of this defeat. But, things are never – as they say – as bad as they may seem. To those of you who are still feeling the pain…it will pass and things will not seem as bad as they feel. Because…they are not bad in reality. For those of you whose optimism burns eternal…God bless you! That is the way I hope to become someday, but know that that optimism shouldn’t come without a high bar of expectations. I hope to maintain that balance some day as well.

Second, there is still a ton to play for. Sure, would love to have had the CUSA Title game at home…but that dream exit has been erased from possibility. However, 10 win seasons are rare in college football, particularly for the non-BCS guys out there and we have a chance to achieve that. Moreover…our recent bowl history is not one to brag about…so the goal of winning the last game of the season is important. We need to go into the AAC next season rolling…not tailing out. The extra practice that a bowl game affords is especially beneficial this season as we transition into the AAC…particularly for our younger OLs and DBs…where we must sure up between now and next August.

This team has won 9 games this season, including two absolutely dominating wins over UNC-CH and N.C. State which this staff should be able to parlay into some great recruiting coups (if I were this staff, I would have the media group cut-up these two games into a high-class, glitzy film for recruits to watch). This team has the aforementioned goals left this season. And, this team has a ton of talent coming back to open up its first season in the AAC…starting with the offense and a guy who really should be on the early Heisman watch list in QB Shane Carden – he deserves that on merit. The offense returns a guy who should be a pre-season All-America WR in Justin Hardy who will lead a slew of talented WRs (e.g., rising super sophs Davon Grayson and Isaiah Jones, mismatch TE Bryce Williams, the prodigal son Jabril Solomon, physical Cam Worthy, up and coming DaQuan Barnes and Jimmy Williams and others in the wings), a rising senior running back who has logged some reps and shown some promise in Breon Allen and three OLs who are experienced now at center and the tackles positions – there is much to build on.

Likewise on the defensive side of the ball, we return a ton of talent in an already tough, nationally rated front seven with one starting DE returning and two starter quality NTs back, three starters back at linebacker (I am counting Montese Overton as a starter quality OLB) and depth there too. We do lose 3 of 4 starters in the secondary, but fortunately, it is Coach Rick Smith’s forte and I think he will have better talent in the back when it is all said and done (e.g., I expect DaShawn Benton to be a stud next season).

Our biggest loss (maybe other than Derrell Johnson) is probably punter/holder Trent Tignor…who I think is NFL caliber and hope he gets a chance…we are going to miss him a ton (between booming field flipping kicks and probably the best I-20 kicker we have had in a long, long time here.).

I believe this staff has assembled enough talent to hit the ground running in the AAC and I think that we are – despite losing the East Division – in a unique position to recruit this season with the wins over our in-state ACC rivals, with another winning season, with BOTH an Offense and Defense with gaudy national rankings and finally, with a culture that is at least putting away the teams we should beat. We rolled through these teams in a fashion I have not seen ECU do…ever. Sure, who wouldn’t want Tulane and Virginia Tech back…two games we could have won…easily…but, let’s not forget that they are both bowl bound, pretty darn good teams.

Which brings us back to Marshall…the only team on our schedule who walked the dog on us from start to finish…no doubt about the outcome of that game after the opening whistle blew. Did the kids play tight? Looked that way to me. Did Marshall look bigger, stronger, and faster? On Friday they did. But, what I saw was not necessarily a team that wasn’t prepared or focused, what I saw, IMO, was a team that prepared wrongly. This is important, IMO, because it has been a long time since we had an ECU team with as much talent and ability as any team on its schedule. But, we lost because we had the wrong game plan in place. Our kids – minus some bad bounces – executed the game plan against Marshall. Unfortunately, Marshall’s game plan was better and they executed their’s as well.

Look, in the run up to the Marshall game, everyone I know (see my pre-game post), expected Marshall to walk up and press up on our WRs. It just makes sense…beat up our receivers on the line of scrimmage and force our offense to go to mid-range and deep-passes as the first choice rather than our dink and dunk method. Marshall bet that their DLs could get enough pressure to allow their DBs to focus on the coverage for the first few strides of the route. Well…that is what they did and it worked, like many folks who talked about it before the game. Further, where Marshall took advantage of the slot combination of Gator Hoskins and Tommy Shuler, we seldom did the same by putting Bryce Williams and Justin Hardy on the field together working out of the slot and putting their safeties and LBs in a big bind.

We stuck to trying to run first and our short passing game and we lost on that bet. Defensively, we insisted on giving Marshall’s WRs a huge cushion and Rakeem Cato killed us on it…like everyone they have faced this season who has done that. Why we didn’t do the same thing they did is a mystery to me considering we play against our own offense in practice and know that is necessary to stop us. Our game plan didn’t address this.

Were there an amazing amount of holding by their DBs and OLs? I have to admit that I have never seen a game with as much holding as that one on Friday…however, the officials established that they were not going to call that early and would have allowed our kids to do the same…but we didn’t. Again game plan.

Why all the game plan bashing? Not to run down our staff…actually, quite the opposite. I am thrilled that a game plan could make such a difference. For so many years, I have watched ECU’s kids fail to execute anything resembling a game plan. It was nice to see that the talent level at ECU is such that our game plans could make a difference in how our team actually fares in a game. Coaches thought we had the right plan in place. Aside from special teams coverage units, our kids pretty much executed the game plan (ugly as it was). Hindsight says…wrong game plans.

Was the execution perfect? No, but our kids ran into a Marshall team that wanted it more than us. I think our kids fought hard, but those Marshall kids played like their entire future relied on this game’s outcome. They deserve it. Our kids, on the other hand, hopefully learned something that will benefit them in the bowl game and beyond into the AAC…the game you are playing is ALWAYS the most important game of the season.

In all, it is hard to say that this program is trending any way but up. I expect our kids to bring it for the bowl game and to play it like it is a super bowl…our super bowl this year. I expect the coaches will be putting in the hardest month of coaching that they have in their time in Greenville. I expect that the kids on this team are still smarting from Friday and will be all the way up to the bowl game and will be an angry team when the kick off whistle blows. And, we need this bowl game more than we even needed another CUSA Title.

Everyone needs a good ass-kicking once or twice in their lives…I’m betting ours was in Huntington last Friday and that it will ensure our kids are dishing out more than they are taking next time out on the field.

14 comments on “Buc up Pirates: All is not lost…Sometimes, a visit to the woodshed has unexpected results

  1. Jolly Roger

    Good write up. It’s been a long time since Dec 2009, and the last big game we won with national implications ( CUSA title game over Houston). I have seen so many blunders in bowl games it’s not funny. Glad we won nine this year, the AAC will be MUCH tougher with no more UAB’s, USM’s, UTEP’s, etc. Ruff and Co are good recruiters and we need to get better at secondary and running back next year. Who knows what the bowl game will look like?, maybe we can redeem ourselves for the off season.

    • Welcome JR…I agree that the AAC is going to be much tougher week-to-week…hopefully it will help us produce a higher level of play.

      I am eager to see the bowl match up we draw as it seems match-ups are huge for our team. We need to finish this season with a win.

      Cheers JR.

  2. Insightful analysis. The bowl match up will be huge. Our staff thinks that running an end around or double reverse pass is changing it up. That article on one of the WV papers nailed what really changing it up is, what real game planning is. Our staff is not there yet.

    As for the AAC, all depends next season on who we play and where IMO. They had four excellent teams this season (one is leaving) and four loudly barking dogs. Tulsa is coming in limping and, even giving them their due, I don’t fear the wave even though I can’t swim. ECU will likely struggle against the ones in the top two or three that we end up playing but should be able to compete with the rest and dominate some. Will go back to match ups and game planning as you wrote. Staff was schooled by Marshall staff top to bottom and side to side, including the HC. Will they learn from it or continue with the “process”, which sounds like some assembly line instructional? I have no idea.

    • Pat…great to hear from you!

      Your insights are great here. I have to remind myself that Coach Ruff is still a baby when it comes to head coaching history and I agree that they are not quite “there” yet in terms of full on game planning complete with contingencies built in.

      I am hopeful that we go into the AAC on a role and that those top teams are trying to reload. With the exception of the CUSA teams that are moving over or did last year, our team will be new territory for the rest of the league so I expect we will have some successes against the unfamiliar teams.

      One good thing that I have noticed over the last four years is that Ruff and crew do take things to heart and seem to build on their short comings each off season. I also think that their recruiting is pretty good…but the kids still must be coached up to reach potential. There was no reason on earth that our OL shouldn’t have been dual threat this year with the seniors in the line up at the beginning of the year…we should have been equally able to bomb teams and grind them, but we gave up a ton of sacks and still could not get into a smash mouth mode.

      That said, I am very optimistic about the AAC for us both in recruiting and on field results.

      Cheers Pat!

  3. Great points! While the pain of not getting that last CUSA title stings as it was my goal for the season there is still one game left to make this a special season.

    That is how I feel and I have no control over the Football program. I can only imagine the pain and dismay that the Coaching Staff and players have. It should cause gut wrenching pain if you do not accomplish your goals.

    Still the capability to win 10 games in a season is rare. Heck it was the 2003 season just 10 short years ago that the Pirates won 1 game the whole season and had to have a virtual bowl. Those were dark days and we should never forget just how far we have come.

    The 2013 football edition of the Pirates can do what only one other Pirate team has done before. Winning 10 games will not get us all our goals for this season, however it is still the only thing left we can accomplish!

    Hopefully we can harness the gut wrenching feeling of losing the CUSA title and take it out on whatever unlucky opponent draws a mad Pirate football team! They are a good team and can achieve special status with another win!

    • Welcome P96…

      Your point on the pain is one that is easily lost by many of us fans, I think. I think you are on the money that the kids and coaches are probably sick over the loss and how it unfolded. They work hard and to see it all blow up on them has to be – as you said, “gut wrenching.” They want to be great.

      And, if they can close out with a win, as you pointed out…this team will put itself in a small band of teams in ECU history, with a whole lot of talent coming back to the fold for 2014.

      I don’t know if we win our bowl game – it depends on the match ups – but I do expect to see this team bounce back and play well either way…they have only tasted defeat 3 times this season, so I think the odds roll back to us in a bowl game.

      Stop in again sometime P96…welcome here!

  4. DC Pirate 28

    Nice work again Ron. Leading into this game I was having the same thoughts, are we real good or not. Having not played in a competitive game in nearly 2 months, playing on the road after a short week in the cold, and being senior day was setting this contest up for a potential train wreck which it was.

    Normally a game like this would sting for a long time but I was over it quickly. I grabbed my I pod and went for a walk to decompress. While listening to the local sports radio station the score was not even considered important enough to be announced at the top of the hour break. In addition I looked in on BYB and was surprised by all of the posts and the wars among the Pirate faithful over the result. Nobody wants to win more than I but with all of the games played someone must win just as someone must loose. We don’t know how hard the other team or coaches worked in the off season nor do we know how much this game meant to them after tasting a crushing defeat last year. Was that their motivation? Did that make them put in the extra lifting or film study? or do we just assume that we will always do things better and the chips will always fall our way because this is our team. Hey they want to win too and sometimes maybe more than us.

    Lets first look at the fact that we won 9 games and have another game remaining hopefully against a BCS conference team. What greater motivation than having a chance to redeem yourself and show that game was a fluke and we are better than what we showed.

    Lets look at who we beat NC State who has an AD that has little respect for us and I’m kind of joking who also stole are midfield logo. In addition we not only beat but humiliated the great blue satin from the west UNC both on the road.

    Yet if you look on BYB some want to get rid of our coaches, rip 18-21 year old kids that laid an egg at Marshall despite kicking the fill in the blank here against the 2 programs that have gone out of their way to keep our school and program in their place.

    Let me remind the faithful that UNC seems to have a top 15 recruiting class each season. They go out of their way to get what they want or who they want and keep their players on the field by taking classes that in many cases do not exist. For years they refused to play us and I’m sure have yet to say anything or do anything positive for our program.

    After all of this, the talent, the money, the corruption what exactly do they have to show for it ? Can anyone tell me when was the last time they won an ACC championship?? I can, it was 1980 a mere 33 years ago.

    I think people need to understand who we are, where we stand, and where we are going. Bill Lewis after the biggest win in program history bought out his own contract less than 24 hours after the game to leave. Skip won back to back championships but he also left once he had an offer.

    The most successful programs that have tried to make the leap from a mid major to making it on the national stage have the same thing in common. They have been able to keep their coaches and build a program. For the older set like me Virginia Tech had Frank Beamer. More recently Patterson at TCU, Pederson at Boise, and it pains me to say it because nobody would ever hire him O’Leary at UCF.

    If we want to escape having a good team every 5 years or so we need someone to lead the program over the long hall its the only way we can recruit and build a contender on a consistent basis. Changing coaches means you start over and history will show if they build something they leave at the 1st offer. Lets enjoy the success we had to this point we have 1 more to win.

    • Hey there DCP28…very good perspective there and worth the read. You know, Ruff is slowly building here and has no desire to leave…ever.

      Continuity matters and I believe you are correct in terms of ECU’s chances to rise to new heights being tied to that continuity. Using O’Leary as an example…a few years ago, the fans there were looking to have him fired…and now…they are headed to a BCS game.

      Ruff is still learning the HC gig and will get better. I think that the future is very bright for ECU in the AAC and beyond.

      Cheers to you DCP28!

      • Completely agree…Doc schooled us a bit this time but Ruff will learn from it. I’m willing to give this HC some time because he’s a Pirate…one of us. In terms of bowls, I prefer an ACC team over the MAC but, mostly, just really want a win…it’s been too long. Great post.

      • I prefer a BCS conference opponent as well Ed…we need to keep upping the ante in competition.

        Familiarity breeds competitiveness…need only look at the Virginia Tech series to see that our team plays them tough every time out now.

        And, more than anything, this program needs a bowl win to re-validate us…that we are not a team riding an easy conference into post-season.

        Go Pirates, Go!

  5. completely outcoached! this hc still has not won a game against a quality team. State and Carolina were both terrible!

    • Hi RC…

      We were totally outcoached…no way to sugar coat it or rationalize it away…totally agree.

      I have a slightly different bent on the State and UNC games. UNC obviously is a better team than they were when we played them, but our kids beat them senseless in that game…State…meh…they are a bad football team.

      That said, in the past, it has never seemed to really matter how up or down UNC was, our kids could not seem to find a way to overcome the inferiority complex to get a win. The game-winning FG game aside, this year was the first time we took UNC to the woodshed and on their field to boot…Ruff deserves some credit there, IMO.

      As far as State goes…anytime our kids go and execute against State and win, I consider it a big deal given the same mental challenge that game presents.

      To the rest of the schedule and previous seasons, I agree…no signature wins. Ruff and company have – hopefully – another shot at taking a step forward with the bowl game. I really hope we are pitted against a brand name program as we need a win against a recognizable program.

      As always…love hearing your thoughts on things rc…keep ’em coming.


  6. hate to disagree with you Pharma, but Pat Dye’s team ran all over them.

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