This is going to probably sound crazy given three straight games where a fair case could be made that the Pirates played to the level of their opponents. In wins over a now SMU (0-7), USF (3-5), and UConn (1-6), while the No. 23 (Playoff Committee Ranking) Pirates won each game by double-digit margins, the intensity and execution has not been on par with the first 3 wins of the season.
There are reasons for this, not the least of which is that by mid-season the poorer-performing teams start to play looser with nothing to loose, and the better teams by this point in the season, have a body of work for the teams later on the schedule to game plan for…to match strengths against weaknesses. And, there is another reason for this, IMO, which is the pressure quotient.
With each game ECU puts in the W column, the pressure for the next week goes up.These kids are not immune to knowing what each week means…where the margin of error narrows and the big prize eludes with a single misstep. This team is talented enough to win out but they are not showing it presently.
What they are showing, so far, is grit. They find a way to win where in the past, this program has had a knack for succumbing to that pressure sooner rather than later. Whether or not that game awaits this team or not, the pressure is palpable which makes it tough to play when conditions are not stellar.
Still…I have an entirely different feel for this weekend’s game against an athletic 4-3 Temple Owls team. Maybe it is because I live just north of the city and hear some about their program or maybe it is just the fact that with the longer week to prep, I expect ECU to come out with something to prove. Regardless, I think ECU will roll this weekend and here is why.
First and foremost, my reasoning is based on the fact that this Temple team is reeling internally. There is a lot of angst within the program right now and it is bubbling out, largely with ridicule from the fan base over Coach Matt Rhule’s decision-making and overall assessment of his team. We all know that like it or not, the pulse of the fanbase sometimes translates into real tension within the program. There is tension around P.J. Walker’s status as the starter at QB, there are issues on the offensive line where the Owls really have basically abandoned the run, there are grumblings over play calling…a litany of issues AND then there is the fact that in the region…people really don’t care about Owls football. You get scant analysis of the program other than from this guy who does a pretty good job given the topic and the interest around him. And, what you do get amounts to a printed version of “Meh…ho hum…”
If we bring 5,000 to 7,000 fans to the Linc (Lincoln Financial), it truly will sound like a home game for the Pirates who will have to contend with its own demons when it comes to playing on the road in a cavernous environment. A relative sea of Purple and Gold could truly tip this game for the Pirates early. But, that remains to be seen. Safe to say, Temple and ECU will both feel equally comfortable or uncomfortable on Saturday in terms of the setting.
Offensively, after a promising start to the season, the Owls have tumbled decisively (averaging around 350 ypg) to the bottom of college football in terms of production. Defensively, the athleticism on the team has kept the Owls in games…but the D looks to be getting tired…After thumping Tulsa, the Owls D has posted two less than exciting efforts in losses to Houston and UCF. They gave up 439 yards and 31 points to the Cougars and then followed that performance up with yielding 466 yards and 34 points to Central Florida. While defense is certainly capable for Temple, the pressure created by a turnover prone O (6 picks in those two losses), is too much for this group to overcome.
IMO, neither Houston nor UCF have the offensive power the Pirates have, so I would not expect Temple – which has a good defense – to shut us down at all, particularly following a long week where Coach Ruff has surely been pushing the kids to get back on track, particularly offensively. While I do believe that UCF has a better defense then ECU, the Pirates should be able to game plan to create some INT opportunities. As long as we spy Walker and keep him in the pocket, the Owls will likely once again be forced to try to pass to win, so if Coach Rick Smith has got the secondary in the right place this weekend (ala the 2nd half of the UConn game), This game should well be in ECU’s control. Temple has weapons on offense along with Walker, they just don’t seem to use those weapons well. They have a big-talented tight end (a former 5-star prepster who transferred in from Florida) who is rarely used in the passing game. They have a pair of backs (Thomas and Harper) who if used in tandem in a power running formation could probably do some damage, but the two are rarely on the field together. Fitzpatrick looks like a pretty good receiver but has only 6 catches in the last two games. And, overall, their play calling appears to be a bit predictable.
Further, though it is a big game next for the Pirates, traveling to a high-output O at Cincinnati, that game is after another bye week, so Coach Ruff surely should get the kids’ attention for the here and now for the Owls.
I was very worried about this game this season…circling it as a strong potential for a heartbreaking “WTF” game, but do not have the sense right now. ECU would greatly benefit by getting out quick on this team and to do so, we need to be able to run the ball with some authority and to be sure to take downfield shots (which might be limited with Trevon Brown sidelined) — maybe put some pressure on their freshman corner. Also, could see Bryce Williams being a huge factor in this game as well as Breon Allen in the receiving game, up the seams on this defense. My big pause for concern in this game is whether or not our secondary is positioned to give our defensive line just another half-second to disrupt. Last week, against UConn, the AAC officials sent a big message that if you come out from the opening whistle and just maul the receivers – like that is just how you play – you will get away with it. We need to do the mauling more than we do. Our kids need to beat up the receiver before he gets into his route. This forces the QB to hold the ball just a smidge longer. If we can do that, We will get to the QB…something we have not done enough of this season. Walker is a talent, but as such, he also presses some times too much and forces throws…he’s thrown 9 INTs against 11 TDs…not the number you want, but can our D take advantage of it? So far, our coverage has not been stellar.
Over the years, I have noted that one way to prepare yourself for an ECU game is to watch very closely the first offensive and defensive drives of each half. For whatever reason, we typically portend the two quarters that lie ahead quite eerily by those first drives. It is uncanny, IMO. So, as I settle in at the Linc this weekend, I will set my expectations by how we come out. This weekend, I expect to see a fired up, purposeful team on the field for ECU.
Love to hear thoughts from you all.
Good to hear your “local perspective” as I still can’t get Temple’s early season thumping of Vanderbilt (admitedly not as strong as expected) out of my mind. Leaving Norfolk at 3pm with my wife for the City of Brotherly Love, looking forward to the morning ECU Alumni Association Tailgate at Xfinity Live, and then it will be game time in less than 26 hours from now!
Remember small Temple crowds from games many years ago at the Vet and Franklin Field, and now we attack them at the Linc! Licoln Riley at the Linc….lookout Owls!
Ahoy, CP! Always great to hear from you.
You may be onto something there…Lincoln Financial…home of the Lincoln Riley’s high-flying offense!!
I do think that Temple has some very good athletes, but reading all the local stuff here…there is a lot of turmoil…tough to get focused for a team not accustomed to winning.
Safe travels and enjoy your stay in Philly this time around.
Go Pirates, Go!
I know very little about Temple, so thank you for your analysis about the Owls. Go Pirates!
Hi Paul…hope you are well!
They have a dangerous QB when he is on his game and their defense has athletes across the board…they have done well this season in limiting points.
That said, got a good feeling about this weekend, weather or no.
I’m still worried this game will be close, but I hope you’re right. I think we will still go deep with Brown out, Worthy can still stretch the field and make those plays like he did at VT. I agree that we need to get physical with their receivers early. We should have done that the past 3 games IMO, if for no other reason than to disrupt the timing. Also, our WR should get physical back early in the game. If the refs let it go one way, then hopefully they will the other. Hope it stays dry for everyone in attendance……enjoy the game!
Thanks for dropping in Chris…
I agree totally on the physical WR play as well…once we know which way the refs are going, we should maximize to our benefit.
We will know a lot about how we do in our opening drives…
Go Pirates, Go!
Will weather be an issue? It seems the forecast has swung from really bad to just not good. Our passing game won’t do as well in 18mph wind gusts and the field goal kicking………
Welcome as always JR…
Weather could be a real issue with high winds and rain.
Thank God for the short passing game!
Go Pirates Go!
Nice job Ron, I think you make an excellent point about the mounting pressure upon our squad. While many have not been happy with so many bye weeks I think this has been an advantage in many ways.
Aside from the obvious in allowing players to heal and more time to prepare for the next opponent the extra time off could help our team adjust to the additional media attention. Despite having never been in this position before because of the changing system we should use the national spotlight to grow our brand. A win against Temple gets us to the middle of November still ranked and top dog among the non P5 where in years past the season would be completed based on how late in the year it is.
I would love to see our coaches use this extra time to flip the script when it comes to in state recruiting. Having dropped 125 points on UNC the last 2 seasons not to mention their major internal issues. The fact that State has struggled, Wake will likely never win, and the fact that Duke will return to being Duke if their coach decides to leave has the door wide open for our team to finally step up and get some kids who historically would never give us the time of day.
In addition the time is now to land those special talents, the difference makers at either QB, WR, RB, DT, S, or LB. The kind of talent that changes the dynamic of the program, that a 4 or 5 star kid would come to an ECU for what Ruff and the staff have built here. The fact the CINCY can land a Gunner Kiel or Temple can grab a 5 star TE why not ECU getting that talent for a change.
The thing about our team is that if the offense clicks on all cylinders its next to impossible to stop. I wonder at times does it hurt because we have too many options and only 1 ball to take advantage of them.
My biggest fear this week will be the weather, the penalties, and our special teams play. We seem to get next to nothing out of the return game while giving up a fair amount of return yardage. This is never good for flipping or field position. I can’t sit here and be critical of a kid but I think our staff has done little to help the confidence of our FG unit by going for it each time while well within FG range.
My hope is that with the extra time the team learns what it takes to win and execute under the gun. I’m sorry I won’t be there but have reservations for the UCF game. Lets just hope we run the table.
Cheers and Go Pirates
Hi DCP…always love your analysis and once again…spot on.
I do worry about the weather this weekend and special teams is a big concern. We cannot afford to settle for 3 particularly when 3 is no guarantee each time out for our kicking unit.
That said, strangely, I have a very upbeat feeling about this game and much of that is because of the extra time afforded by the Thursday night game.
Let’s link up afterwards and have a chat about the game either way!
Cheers and go Pirates!
After expecting and not getting blow outs in the last three games, I resigned myself to a close game where we have to wait until the 4th before we put it away so…I’m sure you’re right! To me, the secondary is the key. I always draw a breath when teams throw the ball deep. It would be nice to see a few pass breakups tomorrow. If we do, they may resort to the short passing game where our stout LBs can lock them up.
Always good to hear from you Ed…
Secondary is the key…and will have an impact going forward each time out. Aggressive = Good; Undisciplined = Bad. Our corners particularly do not always appear to be aware of the situation when they gamble and it has hurt us a lot. Gotta play a disciplined and controlled game.
Either way…looking forward to seeing the Pirates at the Linc.
Hey RC! Hope you will be there cheering on the Purple and Gold! I can’t make it, but will be there in spirit. Hey, TV eyeballs count too!
I just hope we come out and play our game and things will be fine. We can’t let the Owls hang around all game. We all saw what happened to UNC when we put the pedal to the metal, “origamiville”. (Another one of my new analogies for ya)
Take care brother and….
Hey BBG…thanks for the drop in.
TV eyeballs count more than ever now…sure you will be glued to it.
Excited to have the Pirates in my area…makes for easy trips when here and at UConn.
Like the “origamiville…” may borrow if you don’t mind now and then…hopefully our Pirates make use of the new term!
Cheers and Go, Pirates!