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For Pirates, USC Game is Everything an ECU Coach, Player, Fan Could Want


Hardy will need to be big as usual this time around with the Gamecocks.
Hardy will need to be big as usual this time around with the Gamecocks.

To quote one of our friends here at this blog (DCPirate28), Basically I think this is what we have wanted as a program for all of these many years, a chance to show that we belong despite the fact the deck has been stacked against us for as long as I have followed this team. I don’t want to blow this out of proportion but I think with the current climate in College Football I think this might be the most important month we have seen.

This is the beginning of a schedule of games, at a time when we most needed it, that will either validate who we all think we are as a program (which includes the fans) or inform us of what we need to do to be relevant going forward in a football world that seeks to exclude as many teams as possible.

If you every had a moment where you weren’t sure that you love senior wide receiver, read the recent SI feature on Lincoln Riley and his cast of walk-ons (here). As a former journalist, I love a good end quote and the writer got a hell of a great one out our star player:

“That’s the beauty of it. We’re the team that got what everybody didn’t want. So we go against teams that didn’t want us and beat them.” —  Justin Hardy from SI feature story.

OMG…if you went to East Carolina and don’t at least appreciate Hardy, you better check yourself. Don’t bother staring at yourself in the mirror, because in a way, Hardy is that mirror. Every time you watch him, you are seeing yourself in a way. You are a product of a school that has succeeded despite so many forces trying to keep it down; hence, your successes as an alum, a reflected in this young man’s successes and the work it took to swim up the stream against heavy currents.

Saturday night will be a challenge, but if you are not jacked for it (and the slate of games behind it), then you may want to reconsider the ECU fire burning within…add a coal or two and channel the vibes onto the field at WB Stadium.

This is the first season in a long time where I am DVR’ing games left and right because I want to be aware in detail of what the teams on our slate are doing. I watched the Temple game, the UConn game, the SMU game, and of course the USC-TAM game. This week, you better believe I will watch the Virginia Tech game, too. This schedule is a beauty and as DCP said, this September may be the most important month in Pirate history (past/present/future).

What awaits?

The script is not ideal What would have been best, IMO, is if USC had beaten Texas A&M and preserved its home win-streak. Of course, that would be preferred for SOS, but also because had USC won, they would clearly be focused on Georgia without a wink of thought about the Pirates.

While the USC fans across the message boards seem to think that the Gamecocks will route ECU and ARE thinking about Georgia already, we can all be fairly confident that the USC players and the OBC are indeed squarely focused on ECU. They desperately need a win…period. Forget the SEC East at the moment. An 0-2 USC team would be DOA for any of the big bowls and the playoff regardless of a win against Georgia. So, this is the biggest game on their slate.

So, yes, they will be loaded for bear for us and bringing everything they got…their A game for sure. The big questions are: 1) is their defensive A game good enough; 2) will our players be able to handle the WB experience; 3) can our defense play mano-a-mano with USC?

Let’s look closer at those questions.

The scary thing for the Gamecocks defensively was that they didn’t look out-athleted or out-skilled against Texas A&M…but they did look absolutely lost for a good portion of the game. The players looked like they didn’t understand their jobs. This contributed to overall poor tackling which then contributed to A&M being able to pretty much do whatever they wanted. Let’s not forget, this was a 10-7 game at the end of the first quarter.

This whole “Kenny Hill” is a god’s gift to the QB position is complete BUNK. He did look good and confident, but please…that was his first start. He may prove to be the best, but let’s not get carried away with what the USC fanbase and the media is using to describe why the unthinkable happened last Thursday night. No, what happened was a good A&M offense facing an ill-prepared defense…that is what happened. South Carolina has young, talented guys on defense. Certainly they are not Clowney and Quarles, but they are talents nonetheless. The issue is that USC knew it started the season with two spread attacks capable of scoring points and had to do something to prepare for it. The 3-4 has proven to help against it so they installed it as part of their packages. They also played quite a bit of even fronts as well. They looked like young guys who were thinking rather than reacting.

So, what does that mean for ECU. First, I am biased but not hitting the kool-aid when I say that Shane Carden is a better QB (today at least) then Hill is. More reps, more times through the mill, and will make his usual great decisions. I will let the message board experts go at the debate as to whether or not our receivers are as good as A&M’s but I will say, as a collection – led by Hardy – I wouldn’t trade them for any. The question really is this: Can our offensive line perform on par with Texas A&M’s? That could be the difference here. But, I submit that our OL doesn’t need to be as good…it just needs to execute. Create passing windows and give the Captain his 3 seconds on each snap. USC has 9 days to essentially learn their job assignments on D. Tough gig, but expect they will be better. But it is hard to imagine that they will 180 degrees better, so the Pirates O should be able to exploit. If they do stick with their coverages, our offense will score a ton of points.

Which brings us to No. 2…

To me, the biggest factor here is the potential “wow” factor. As much as USC bought the media hype, I wonder if our guys did as well. We have a seasoned senior pair in Carden and Hardy who will be cool under pressure. The question is the other guys. Like it or not, not a whole lot of these guys have been in a game like this. Yes, some were there last time against USC, but this game will have the feel of what it is: A nationally televised SEC game with EVERYTHING on the line for the Gamecocks. Lose and they are done in 2014-15.

Our kids need to be angry. To go in not hoping to do well, but knowing they will do well and to prove something to the Gamecock PLAYERS. Each of our boys need to whip the guy in front of them on every play. Take it personal. Demand respect from players who don’t respect them. The Pirates cannot play tight…they must leave that for the home team. Play like there is nothing to lose, because for ECU, there isn’t. But there is so much to win for our guys. With veterans in key positions, the atmosphere should not be overwhelming – but this will be a test for the Capn and Hardy because they will have to keep the youngsters at bay. I agree with former coach Steve Logan’s assessment on ECU’s familiarity with South Carolina and its mitigation of the “awe” factor in Columbia. (Listen to the LoganZone starting at 13:40 mark)

Finally, what will our Defense do in Columbia. South Carolina – though they may not have shown it a lot on Thursday – has a  very good and strong offensive line and our defensive front is thin right now. It is a pretty safe bet that the OBC’s game plan will be a heavy dose of ground and pound hoping to wear the D out. This is where our LB corps will have to earn its reputation. Speed and gap discipline will need to be on display. Zeek and Brandon and the others inside will have an opportunity to pile up the stats but those tackles need to be at the LOS not 5 yards down field. Montese and Maurice and the other OLBs are going to need to contain and get up field post-haste. And we have to be sure in the tackling department.

They will no doubt try to keep the Pirates O on the bench so our D must win in the 3rd down conversion column and not allow the Gamecocks long drives. This is going to be a major “welcome to the real season” moment for the defense – many of whom are just starting to get reps in on the regular. I think the two-deep at ECU will need to deliver so that we can keep fresh legs out there that are also effective.

Defensively, some areas we need to watch will be the Dylan Thompson looking at his big tight ends and testing the safeties down the middle of the field. As confused as USC’s defense was last week, we can ill-afford to be confused in our secondary this week. They are a capable offensive team so the D will have to make a big difference in this game. Turnovers will be a premium, too.

Alas, we should not forget about special teams. Our special teams appear pretty solid, but the place kicking does appear to be suspect. The one attempt vs NCCU, while good, should never have been the adventure it was. Don’t want this one coming down to a kick.

At the end of the day (or night in this case), there shouldn’t be a Pirate fan at this game or tuning in who should be in awe of South Carolina. They are a very good team, will play very good, but we have a pretty good club too. If ECU top players are as good as we think they are, then ECU will be fine in this game. Great players make good players better. And as angry as the Gamecocks will play, the Pirates should bring an equal amount of chip and grit.

This month, starting with USC, is everything we all have been waiting for…so enjoy it.

Go Pirates, Go…

17 comments on “For Pirates, USC Game is Everything an ECU Coach, Player, Fan Could Want

  1. Greg Jones

    Great post as usual Ron. I agree that it would have been better to be taking on USC after they had won their opener. But, I think their players will still generally overlook our team. Even so we’ll need everything we got to beat them on the road.

    I’ll be watching tonight at an LSU fan’s house. Over the years I’ve made the mistake of playing up my Pirates in advance of a big game against big conference foes, so I’ve been low key this week. But, I’ve quietly let it be known that ECU might have something special in store for college football this year.

    Let’s go Pirates!!! Arrrrrrgggggggghhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Totally get your thoughts on low key approach and agree that there is potential!

      Hey…are you going to be at the UNC game or no?

      Hope you and the fam are great Greg!

      • Bummer loss. That one hurt cuz we could have won it. Shot ourselves in the foot too many times.

        Not gonna make the UNC game, but am trying to make one this year. I’m moving back to central Illinois, so getting to a game is challenging. Might aim for the bowl game. Hope we can all hook up soon. I’d enjoy that a lot.

      • Agree on the shooting ourselves in the foot…when can you remember a game where we failed to finish drives like this one?

        And, the blocked FG was a coffin nail.

        If you get moved before Nov.. 1 and change your mind on the Temple game, let me know!


  2. ECU will win and it will not be an upset. Go Pirates!

  3. Ron, great work as always. I must say this has been a strange week for me and I wonder if I’m living on the same planet as these so called college football experts.

    First I was licking my chops to see the USC defense get exposed by the spread system and wanted our game with The Cocks to begin the following day. To hear the announcers comment that USC looked out of place and out of shape plays right into our hands. Who better to run the same system than two seniors who are mentioned on every watch list as MVP’s at their positions. Who better to run out there than a squad that prides itself on running the other team out of the stadium with superior conditioning. Yet if you listen to the experts USC has solved all of their issues just by the fact that they are playing us.

    While A&M has better athletes than ourselves the system remains the system and who better to execute it than proven leaders and guys who have been winning with it for several seasons. Yet if we look at those betting experts the line opened at 13.5 and has moved to 16.5 again based upon what? Did USC get new coaches? better personal all within a week? Were they able to sprinkle fairy dust and fix all that was broken? Has our system and the talent within in it regressed since last season? I’m thinking quite the opposite.

    Why are all of the talking heads that cover the sport not even giving us a punchers chance here while at some point proclaiming that we are a dark horse for the top spot out of the non P5 conferences for a big bowl game. I look at betting lines where Mizzo is only a 4 point favorite at Toledo, or Kansas State a top 20 team only an 11 point favorite against Iowa State who got rocked by a D2 school last week or how Arizona was only favored by 7 against UTSA. I don’t get how we are 17 point dogs in this game on paper.

    I think your analysis about this game was spot on. I expect USC to pound the ball and then beat us deep once we commit to stopping the run. I thought Shane looked rusty last week and should have been picked on a couple of occasions. The TD pass to Hardy was well behind him despite the fact he had his man beat by 5 yards. I saw the same issues with Carden I always do and that’s his inability to stand in the pocket and complete the 8 to 15 yard pass over the middle. Once again not a single pass completed to the TE who like Justin Jones was a totally under used weapon. For our offense to work that throw is there all day and needs to be completed to keep opposing defenses honest.

    This game as always will come down to execution. There will be the standard phantom penalty or two that come up while playing on the road that we must overcome. In addition we can’t afford to turn the ball over or give up a short field on kick coverage. We need to convert on all of our scoring chances we are presented. Clearly USC needs this game more than we do but the scribes were out early last week throwing dirt on all of the Non P5 programs proclaiming they don’t belong. A bad loss here will only mean more negative press and perception.

    In the end I could see this game going two ways. If we come out with a chip on our shoulder and an attitude that we will show you we can hang with these guys, we got a shot. We run the same system as A&M and should be able to do it better with the senior leadership. However if its the deer in the headlights look it could be a long evening for us like the Marshall game.

    All in all its been a weird week with the coverage or lack their of about this game. I will be hosting a party here with all of my buddies who were USC grads so hopefully the chicken will taste good. I’m still choking on last nights spread watching the Nats gag against the Phillies again. Enjoy the game.

    Cheers and Go Pirates.

    • As always love to hear your thoughts DCP28…

      And, I agree wholesale.

      I think that there is a coordinated effort via ESPN on this non-P5 garbage. Gotta play through it.

      Will be glued for this game…hopefully Shane has his A game.

      Go Pirates!

  4. Blackbeard's Ghost

    Great post RC. I’m going to dig just a bit deeper into the philosophical side for a moment.

    I know this is asking a lot but our coaches will have to outcoach USC. I think our staff has learned enough to do this and we have enough talent. We did this against UNC and NC State last year. But If we want to garner respect as a program on a national level, coach Ruff and his staff is going to have to win a game like this (USC or VT) because of the respect of these teams coaches. If we don’t, it won’t matter even if ECU had a team full of 5-star recruits, voters won’t think that this program will ever amount to much in the polls because our coaching staff doesn’t have the “pedigree” to do so.
    So in my opinion, this game is so much more than just beat a ranked SEC team. It means respect for our staff as a program. It means that our staff has become knowledgeable and experienced enough of the game itself, that we have a coach that can win a football game because he has learned how to win against whom ever he faces. THAT is the main reason ,in my opinion, is to what will bring us the glory and the fame and the respect we have so desired for years.
    After 5 years, it’s time for Ruff and company to prove to the world that this program has not just the talent and desire and can occasionally get a “lucky upset”, but a coaching staff that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the “elite” coaching staffs and compete to win on a regular basis.

    Now let’s roll up the sleeves in Columbia today and get to work Pirates. Our future starts now.

    • Oh man, BBG…I couldn’t agree more!

      I love this angle and had not thought about that piece of the puzzle, but you are right…big opportunity for Ruff and crew.

      I am so eager for this game!

      Go Pirates, Go!

  5. Ron, you pretty much nailed the outcome of this game in your earlier post. Do you feel any different about the VT game since Sat or are you still picking the Pirates?

    • Hi Ed…great to hear from you.

      For ECU, I think, the USC game was really like a week 1 game, IMO, meaning that we learned a lot about our team inasmuch as some of the questions we had going in are showing up.

      I think our OL is better than I thought that they would be. I think our DL is thinner than I would like it to be. I am cautiously optimistic about our secondary.

      I had written a game-by-game schedule breakdown which indicated that I thought we would lose a close one to USC. I also predicted a close win over Virginia Tech and I still feel like we get the Hokies this year.

      I believed before the season that the Big 10 was an overrated league and that MSU was the only legit team and so far, it seems to be true. OSU’s offensive line lost 3 all-Big Ten guys…and it showed against Virginia Tech.

      I think Virginia Tech is always a decent team, but this is a rebuild year for them so I think what we saw Saturday was more of a case where Ohio State really is a shell of its old self and VaTech is a solid ACC team. For me, I like our chances.

      Will be posting a more in-depth blog probably on Wednesday, but in general, I think the Offense works out its kinks and the defense will face less of a force up front at Virginia Tech, which bodes well for us up there.

      Love to hear your thoughts on the match-up Ed.

      Best regards.

      • You hit the nail on the head…I saw your earlier review but wanted to get your latest thoughts in light of VTs victory over OSU. At first, I was a bit surprised they beat OSU. However, I share many of the thoughts about them and the Big 10 that you mentioned above (I would also add that they are also working with a different QB). I think you are right; we have a real chance to be VT this year. We are certainly better than we were last year and I’m not sure you can say the same for them. The real questions are can Carden produce against the VT defense and can we execute at the key moments to swing the game in our favor? It seems like our losses to VT have hinged on 2 or 3 plays that just don’t go our way (of course, last year we benefited from a bunch of missed FGs too). We are long overdue for a victory against VT and ranked opponent. Go Pirates!

  6. PURPLE!!!

  7. Blackbeard's Ghost

    In front of a national tv audience, the Pirate Staff and players “bucked up” and got it done!
    So much coaching strategy was shown to us by both teams between VT and us. We came out and punched VT in the mouth with a flurry of long balls. Foster then came back with adjustments. Meanwhile, Beamer figured out how to methodically put points up against our defense. Ruff saw that we couldn’t get clicking on offense the second half and said Worth Gregory, flip the field for now until we can find a kink in that Hokie armor.
    What a football game!!
    I know you watched the game Ron so I have just one question for you. Do you have any fingernails left or did you, like me, chew off every one of them? Lol!

    Now let’s get after those Tarholes and show the nation, we are for real!

    Go Pirates!!

    • Hi BBG…as a matter of fact…I may have to go in and get one of those, ummm, what are they called? Oh yes, a MANicure…fix those gnawed up nails quick!

      What a great game. Honestly, we didn’t deserve to have to go down there and score at the end, but I am glad we had a struggle so that our kids will be sharp and tight this weekend with the cheaters coming in.

      The Pirates played well enough to have run the Hokies out had we not had a few phantom call and had the officials not allowed the VPI DBs to essentially maul our receivers – particularly Fuller on Hardy. The score would have been 35 before they could have started the comeback.

      Anyway…glad our kids were rewarded.

      Hey…how about Terry Williams…good Lord. And, we have some badass LBs…we really do.

      I will be at the UNC game BBG…down from Philly…will have to get a handle on where the cool tailgate spots are!

      Go Pirates, Go!

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