Fall camp will be here before you know it this seemingly fast summer – August 3rd, I believe. My friends and I are planning the opportune time to get together and watch some Pirate football games – live. FYI for anyone interested, will definitely be at the Linc in Philly for the November 1st game against Temple. Excited that we now play a team in my area (I live north of Philly)…will definitely be at any games played in Philly and at Connecticut (and Navy when they come aboard). So, if you are going to be at the Temple game, give me a shout…love to get together with Pirates. Will also be in Greenville for the Cheaters game on Sept. 20th…looking forward to being back in G-town.
Anyway, been thinking a lot about the schedule and thought I might take a stab at sharing thoughts about it…and offer my thoughts on outcomes. Love to hear your thoughts on this. Where do we agree? Where am I am getting puffed up on Purple Kool-aid? Did I miss an easy one? Let’s discuss.
I am breaking this into four (4) posts, 3 games at a time (so you have to check back for each installment):
August 30th, 8 p.m. vs. North Carolina Central (ESPNews)
NC Central’s new coach Jerry Mack (at the ripe old age of 33) probably would prefer not to start his coaching tenure with a visit to ECU where his Eagles will be massive underdogs as the Pirates open the season at home under the lights with their eyes set on lofty goals. This one will be a game decided in the trenches and new offensive guards or no, the Pirates will heavily out man the Eagles on both sides of the line of scrimmage not only in the first string, but also down the depth chart.
The Eagles from the MEAC are not devoid of talent at the skills positions on offense. With a gunslinger of a QB set to start his career there (after a gaudy stint at JUCO) and a highly touted hybrid tight end in the fold, the Eagles will almost assuredly try to attack the Pirates via the air. Mack is familiar with the Pirates, having served on staff at Memphis for a stint and knows that if the Pirates are to have an initial soft spot in the defense, it will be the secondary. Via the air, the Eagles could hope to put up some points early. Further, they will hope that their dynamic return man, Adrian Wilkins, can catch the ECU kick coverage teams sleeping. He was the only man in the NCAA last year to return five – yes that is a whopping 5 – kicks for a TD last season. He took 3 to the house on kickoffs and chipped in 2 more via the punt. Small school or no, you have to take note of that because special teams is one place where depth is only insurance, not a deal breaker on the field. One man can hurt you.
ECU represents the biggest prize on the schedule and it if you are going to be a giant killer, it is best to take your swing in the opener when the big guy is still getting his faculties together and in the Pirates’ case it come in the form of two new guards on the OL and a secondary though with talented athletes will nonetheless be first-timers at the collegiate level. Special teams are a cluster f*** in openers too where NCCU has their best playmaker. It could make for some early tension and concerns. Then, you throw in the fact that the players – try as they may to resist the temptation – will almost certainly be looking ahead to the September 6th game at Williams Bryce Stadium lock-up with the South Carolina Gamecocks, you have the makings of an Appy State cold-cocking of Michigan years ago.
A large stretch as NCCU is nothing like that Appalachian State team. And, with a frosh coach, a team that will have absolutely no depth to hang with the Pirates and an ECU team that has been near dominant at home in recent years…it is a s-t-retch for anyone calling for a shocker. While their offense may be able to punch in a TD or two via the air and maybe they get Wilkinson loose on a kick return, it is almost nil that their defense will be able to come close to containing the Pirates offense in this game.
Let’s call it like it should be (and if it ain’t we is in big trouble this year friends). Pirates should roll in this game…and hopefully to the point that back-ups get ample time. I am going in the neighborhood of the Pirates by 31+ and hitting the half-century mark. Shane Carden should make this a personal statement game, telling college football that he plans to make himself a part of the Heisman discussion.
September 6th, 7 p.m. at South Carolina (airs on ESPN2/ESPNU)
And then, there is this game. Rut-Roh Scooby. After romping to a rousing 1-0 start to the season, the Pirates will wake up on Sunday, August 31st, having gone from overwhelming favorites against NCCU to overwhelming underdogs on the road at South Carolina. The Gamecocks will likely be a pre-season Top-10 team and the Pirates will probably not have learned much about themselves against NCCU. It is going to be a very tall-task for ECU even with some of the positives that the Carden-led offense brings to Williams Brice Stadium. If you really want to see what they may have, here is the complete South Carolina spring game.
The good news is in the set-up for this game. First, it is early in the season, which is when you want to play a team like South Carolina. Second, there is absolutely no way in freaking hell that South Carolina will not be looking past ECU to a looming home battle against fellow SEC power Georgia. Third, ECU will be able to game plan and practice some for South Carolina during August camp and NCCU week while South Carolina, with an opening date game with visiting Texas A&M will have no such luxury. Finally, ECU’s history with South Carolina is one where the Pirates – regardless of the games we got thrashed – believe that they can play with and beat USC any time they clash. This is classic set-up that ECU has run many times in the past successfully. Still, it is a vaunted South Carolina team.
While the Gamecocks are settled at QB with Dylan Thompson getting his turn now that stud QB Connor Shaw has left the building, the offense is by no means assured it is in good hands as Thompson is getting the reigns fully for the first time and has a quality tight end and a top SEC wide receiver at his disposal. In his action to-date, Thompson has not proven to be the marksman that Shaw was, creating opportunity for the Pirates young secondary if the ECU defensive front can put pressure on him. And this, friends, is the rub when you play USC. That friggin’ offensive line is good…real good…try 3 Outland Trophy watch list good. Yep, both tackles and a guard are locked in and loaded for the Gamecocks. Add to that a center who is listed among the best candidates for the Remington Award and we are looking at a veteran and machine-like OL. And, unfortunately, even if Thompson is off the mark, we can expect to face a game plan that carries a heavy dose of ground and pound with and that is where this game is likely to be determined. We can expect primary running back Mike Davis (who hit 100 yards 7 times last year) to get a lot of totes. Hopefully this early in the season, he will be hesitant coming off a injuries a year ago. The only good thing here is that it should be strength on strength which would – on paper – probably be what we want. But in this game, I would almost prefer that USC try to beat us in the air. Our defensive front – win or lose – will not only learn a lot about itself in this on, but also will grow a lot.
So, if South Carolina grinds it out, they will also be doing so to try and slow down the ECU offense which will almost certainly look to make it a track meet. What will they face? Well, let’s start with what is NOT at South Carolina. How about two 1st Team All-America defensive linemen. Shane’s gotta like that. Obviously seeing defensive end Jadeveon Clowney leaving early for the NFL was a welcomed site for any team that plays USC, but for ECU, the bigger relief is in the departure of defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles (the Gamecocks top sack master with 9 1/2 last season). With two new OGs in place this season, catching a break in an early big game in the interior is a big deal for Carden, Breon Allen, and the two newbies who will flank the center. With the Gamecocks certainly looking to reload up front, a peek at the secondary brings more optimism for Carden and crew. The Gamecocks need to replenish at corner – both corners. While the linebacking corps will be good and will support against the ECU short passing game, the fact that USC needs to find two corners helps the Pirates immensely as the O has a bevy of proven receivers inside and outside to stretch, test, and put pressure on the USC secondary…if the OL can hold up and give Allen some slashing lanes to keep the Gamecocks honest schematically.
If the ECU offense has a game on its schedule to be a statement game, it is this one. The O will HAVE TO WIN THIS ONE. That OL for South Carolina will make life hard on the defensive front and I expect that USC with that line will dictate the pace of the game…that is, they are looking to win a 28-14 type of game…they do not want to get into a 45-44 type of game…it doesn’t suit their set-up this season. Carden and crew will need to show that they are who we think they are. This means a fast start…we need to put pressure on that defense of the game and jump on South Carolina early. They are going to grind down the defense and score. Equally important to Carden’s ability to distribute the ball, protect it and move the chains, will be All-America candidate Justin Hardy’s game. Not so much in the pass receiving aspect…he will get his catches or he will help others get open. No, moreso in the punt return game…South Carolina struggled in the punting game last year and ECU will need to exploit return opportunities.
While we won’t know a whole lot more about ourselves after the NCCU game, we WILL know what SC has after their opener against A&M, so we should be ready either way. There is a lot hanging on this game for ECU, win or lose. We need to be in this game, make USC uncomfortable, give them a scare at worst. I think we do that, but I think we fall short…something in the area of a 31-28 loss where we lead going deep into the game, but wear down in the stretch.
September 13th, noon at Virginia Tech (airs on ABC/ESPN/ESPN2)
So, after a valiant effort comes up short in Columbia, SC, our 1-1 Pirates are rewarded with a second-consecutive road trip into the teeth of another vaunted P5 team…one we are intimately familiar with. We will be beat up defensively (hopefully nicks and bruises only) and emotionally spent but having to get up for another big OOC game. See Virginia Tech highlights here and note that there are scant few from the ECU game. If you really want to see what they may have, here is the complete Virginia Tech spring game.
I am not one who usually expects a carry over effect from a previous year’s game, but I see an exception for this one. A year ago, the Pirates defense clamped down on the Hokies’ offense, but the Pirates O vaporized after an impressive scoring drive on the first possession of the game, providing only 31 yards of offense in the 2nd half. The defense, getting no help from the offense, still had an opportunity to win the game, but bungled away two – yes two – pick 6 opportunities and fell to the visiting Hokies 15-10. That loss hurt and is still stinging for the ECU D, most of which saw action in that game.
The ECU Defense – especially up front where there is a ton of experience – will be up for this game. There are several favorables for this math up. First, the Hokies are breaking in a new QB who – if ECU’s D repeats its performance from a year ago – will have to win with his arm. While the Tech OL has experience, it will not be anything akin to the SC line and the lessons learned there (noting that the last time ECU faced an unsettled Virginia Tech line, the Pirates won). And, the expectation in Blacksburg is that Hokies’ Offensive Coordinator Scot Loeffler wants to run the football. Running the ball has not been great at Tech the last couple of seasons as their top back Trey Edmunds was steady, but not spectacular and their change of pace guy J.C. Coleman struggled to stay healthy and their line was not adept at opening holes. If the rah-rah out of Blacksburg is true, they are counting heavily on a new QB (to be named later), a highly-touted-but-nonetheless-true-freshman running back and RS freshman tight end to be the thrust of Loeffler’s offense. No offense to the talents of the three guys, but if you are hanging your offense on a guys this young or green, you gotta like the chances. It is almost assured that the Pirates – this early in the schedule – will see a pound-it offense which is what is desired in this one. Unlike the SC game, the ECU D will perform better against the run in this one. The Hokies are bringing in a former Texas Tech QB – Michael Brewer who was in line for the TT starting job at one point – and if he wins the job, it may signal a shift, but the Pirates should load up to stop the run and take their chances on a newbie QB having to win over the top.
Flipping the script to the Pirates O…any issues they may have faced at SC a week earlier, the Virginia Tech Defense has an even bigger rebuild going on having to replace 5 starters from its front 7. This is good news for Carden who, if given time, won’t allow a flop like a year ago. Expect the ECU offense to be steady this time around, putting a lot of pressure on the Tech linebackers and secondary. While the Virginia Tech D will be a fast one…really fast, it is a beatable D this time around, especially this early in the schedule and considering that Bud Foster (DC extraordinaire) will not have the luxury to prep much for ECU ahead of game week. The Hokies will be coming off a game at Ohio State. To make things tougher on Tech, they also will be heading into a crucial ACC match up the following week against visiting Georgia Tech. This is a recipe for a trap game for the Hokies and with ECU offensive talent and defense geared to stop the run, it would be no shocker if the Pirates close the deal this time, on the Hokies home turf. I am sure the Hokies D will shake out to be outstanding…they always are, but the timing works for ECU in this one and I think the ECU offense can dictate the pace of this game.
In the OOC slate (not counting NCCU), this is the one I think presents the best match up for the Pirates. I am thinking the Pirates take a closer than the score win in this one, something like 35-21.
So, the Pirates hit the first quarter turn at 2-1 overall eagerly awaiting successive home dates with North Carolina and SMU, followed by a road trip to South Florida in the second quarter of the season. Check out the next post for thoughts on those games.