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To Borrow from Dennis Green: “(ECU) is what we thought they were”

At a loss for words: I felt the same way coach...WTF is going on out there??
At a loss for words: I felt the same way coach…WTF is going on out there??

It was glorious while it lasted…national attention, a glimpse into what could be, a euphoria that would seem to indicate that our Pirates would buck the system and find a slice of college football heaven. On a day where the defense played damn near inspired football (allowing just 135 yards of total offense), the offense chose to reveal its dark underbelly…one we all (at least I know I did) thought was fully exorcised in the off-season. And, on a national stage in the rain at Philly, the Pirates O put on such a sub-standard performance (despite more than 400 yards) that anyone tuning in would NEVER have mistaken this team for professionals despite the look and feel presented by playing in a venue like Lincoln Financial field.

Every cutaway to Coach Ruffin McNeill showed the pained face of a man who could not believe what he was witnessing from a group of young men who had largely always found a way to get it done. I, too, felt that cringe every time the offense got the ball. For the first time in a long time, I was expecting a poor pass, a penalty, a fumble (we had 8 on the day), a dropped ball, a wrong read…rather than expecting success.

Is our offense that bad? Not by a stretch. Were the conditions about as bad as they could be for an offense designed to pass the ball? Absolutely. Did the football bounce incredibly one way for the Owls? Certainly.

But, alas, what I took away from this crushing defeat, was that our Pirates are really just exactly what most of us who have been watching them for a long time already knew but had convinced ourselves otherwise are. A good team. Not a great team. Maybe a team that could end up on a list somewhere among the Top-25. Maybe a team that finishes as a very good team. It is games like Temple that separate the good from the great and always will. You simply cannot come in to a game where you are a heavy favorite, with extra time to prepare, and lay a colossal egg like the Pirates did and then turn around and say you are a very good team. ECU is what we thought they were.

Failure is not falling down, but refusing to get up.

Now, the good news is that a closer look at things would reveal that while we lost the inside track to a New Year’s Day selection bowl, ECU has not lost the opportunity to win the AAC title. Thanks to our friends in Central Florida and their equally devastating loss to UConn, the Pirates still control their own destiny in the league. Winning the AAC in their first year in is a HUGE goal that will set the stage for years to come for the Pirates and frankly would make this season more than a good one if the team can accomplish this.

Other good news? Well, the national attention will quickly fade (I know, Pirates, it is back to just the local guys who have been with the team forever) which is sad, but at least with the spotlight a little cooler, the pressure should ebb a bit and maybe that will allow the Pirates to rally down the stretch. A 10-win season is in the balance as is a decent bowl game against a decent opponent. Who knows, maybe Boise or CSU falters down the stretch and the Pirates slip back in… but there is still plenty to play for.

This is the type of moment where McNeill tends to thrive and where the family atmosphere he has worked so hard to build can be the salve that heals the wounds. For many teams that were under the same pressure, fissures would occur and finger-pointing would ensue. Not here, not in this program. They will pull together.

And this is good, because there is no time for the Pirates to cry about the loss as they now have to head to a Thursday night game at Cincinnati where the Bearcats no doubt will expect to win against an ECU team that looked really bad in the loss in Philly. There is no margin for error now…the ECU mission is clear: Win out or accept a mediocre season. At Cincinnati, we cannot expect our defense to play as they did against Temple. The Bearcats will score, so if our offense cannot generate we will be in for an embarrassing not ala Marshall last year.

I am hopeful that Ruff, Lincoln Riley, Shane Carden and Justin Hardy have analyzed what happened and that this team comes out refocused and re-energized for next Thursday night. I am betting on these kids to recapture the luster that was lost over the last few weeks.

Too much left on the table to grab.

The Pirates are who we thought they were and being ECU is still pretty good.

Love to hear your thoughts.

8 comments on “To Borrow from Dennis Green: “(ECU) is what we thought they were”

  1. Deva Reece

    Enjoyed this article as almost always and agree with you about we “drank from Purple Kool-Aid” over anticipating the talent level of this team. However, the constant theme that concerns me from this team is the lack of discipline creating 11-12 penalties per game and coming at crucial times. I know the coaching staff adresses this issue but Daddy Ruff needs to get the belt out and get their attention.

    • Hey there Deva…great to hear from you!

      I am wondering if this uptick in penalties has anything to do with the extra official on the field…I recall reading something about the AAC using 8 officials in the game.

      That said, the penalties are killing us and while I think we have been a little bit over-flagged in the Virginia Tech game and that UConn was allowed to essentially maul our receivers without penalties, the consistent number of calls – particularly holding calls – tells me that whatever our kids are doing, they continue to do it. We know that the flag is coming, so it needs to stop.

      Love the belt reference…so true! Go get ’em Ruff!

      Cheers Deva!

  2. After the loss to Temple, I was disappointed for the seniors. However, as you stated, there is still an opportunity to win a conference championship, go to a bowl in a warm location and lay a solid foundation for the future.

    “Just win the next game.”

    • Hi Paul…

      I was disappointed for the kids as well. Really takes the wind out of the proverbial sails…but, these are still a group of kids with dreams and talent to play this game and that is a powerful combination.

      I expect they will bounce back, but really am hoping that they can make this a special season (which means, win the AAC).

      Thanks for checking in Paul…

      Go Pirates, Go!

  3. Blackbeard's Ghost

    Well you know what they say.. “We are the Pirates of ECU,Hey!”

    Definitely felt like a bunch of things all came to a head against Temple. Like all the bad luck in one season came to that one game. It won’t happen again this season because we are a good team.

    In my opinion, overshadowed greatly by the loss and all the talk of blown access bowl chances is something that shouldn’t have been.
    That Pirate defense! I was uber proud of them and the way they fought tooth an nail against all 17 animals on the field for Temple. (11 Owls and 6 zebras)
    But in the end, some glaring problems are still to be dealt with.
    Penalties, the same penalties we have been dealing with since the beginning of the season. The Offensive line, in terms of pass pro, playing like not just five pennies, but like five different currencies at times.
    Our kicking game, specifically FGs. Not sure whether to point a finger at the kicker or the blocking. Another blocked FG attempt brings the total to what 4 so far this season?
    We will do fine against Cincy next week, because hell, we have 10 days to straighten up. Right?
    Go Pirates!

    • Always love hearing from you BBG…

      I have mixed emotions on the zebras. on the one hand, the officiating at times has been baffling but, we have had so many thrown on us for the same calls that it sheds light on what they are looking at and for so we should be able to correct it.

      The D was stellar on Saturday…and I hope that it carries over to next week. Clearly, our O doesn’t do well with time off and I hope we get can get them cranked up at Cincy and then leave the engine running the rest of the way. I have big confidence in this team and expect them to win out, but if the OL has another game like this one…yikes!

      And on the special teams play, particularly FG…there are scheme issues maybe, but there is also a glaring talent deficit there. Love the kid, fear the kicker. If a FG kicker is not reliable, then what is his value?? I trust there are no better options, so it is what it is. Thank God we have a pretty decent 4th down hit rate.

      Love the inputs BBG…

      Go Pirates, Go!

  4. Ron hope you were able to remain dry at The Linc and sorry the guys did not put on a better show. Last week I thought you totally nailed it about the mounting pressure and expectations of this team. I’m sure very few of these kids expected the national spotlight to hoist upon them when the signed to play your football at ECU.

    I’m sure The Captain never expected to be mentioned as a Heisman canidate while he was muddling his 2 scholarship offers to play D1 football.

    I’m sure if you asked Justin Hardy 5 years ago that he would break the NCAA record for career receptions he might suggest it might help if a D1 program wants me to play for them, as nobody did.

    I’m sure the rest of the roster who were picked 4th in their conference and projected to win 6 or 7 games never thought they would be the top non P5 school heading into November yet we were. Clearly its much easier to play with nothing to loose than a chance to remake the program and exercise the demons of the past.

    My hope was to ride this train as long as we could and take full advantage of everything that comes with it but never expected that we would run the table. The so called experts gave us only a 16% chance of making that happen and our level of play was getting sloppy. I think most of us could see the cracks in the armour.

    I listed three things than concerned me going into the Temple game and that was the weather, penalties, and our inability to flip the field with our return game.

    The weather was the same for both squads but clearly hurt us more than Temple. I feel bad for Breon he is small and has shown that he can put the ball on the ground when conditions are perfect. That being said you can’t blame him its a team game.

    I have never seen Shane so uncertain in the pocket. He does not throw the ball with the laces at all times and looked like he could never get anything on his throws as it appeared he could not grip the ball.

    Our WRs did little to help with several drops.

    In addition I don’t think Lincoln called his best game, you can’t go east west on a wet field so throwing out patterns was only helping Temple. Would have loved to seen more slants, rolling screens, and in patterns. Who knows maybe a defender slips and a big play results.

    Another game where we had 12 flags for well over 100 yards most were called when we were trying to get off the field or convert a 3rd down. The calls could not have come at worse times especially when the conditions would not allow big plays.

    I know people want to complain about our kicking but IMHO that had little to do with the outcome. Good luck standing in a driving rain storm with heavy winds rain and cold and expect to make kicks in excess of 40 yards on a sloppy field when your coaches don’t trust you to make those kicks under perfect conditions.

    The bigger issue here is that we are starting our drives well inside our own 20yard line factor in the standard push in the back or cheap shot then we are backed up to our own 10 forcing the team to go 80 plus yards each time the other team kicks off. When we kicked off I did not see a white jersey until their return man was past the 30 thus creating a short field. If they pick up a first down or two we are backed down inside our own 20.

    Our punt return squads are clearly coached just to catch the ball and forget about a return.

    My point in all of this is that if you factor 100 plus yards in penalities plus another huge chunk of yardage because our inability to flip the field with our kicking and return teams we are at a net disadvantage of nearly 150 to 200 yards per game that we must overcome. Yet we wonder why the scores are so close.

    I know people we wonder how we can run up 400 plus yards to their 135 but when they get the ball on our side of the field and we are back deep in our own territory there is your answer. Temple built up a huge lead and I never felt they were in danger of loosing it as we rarely threatened them. In the end they just did what they had to do to secure the win.

    The saying goes most games are lost, not won, and you had a classic example of that. 5 turnovers, 120 yards in penalities, zero turnovers on D and nothing out of our return teams yeah we lost and time to move on.

    As you stated there remains plenty to play for yet we will face the game where I thought we would have our most trouble. Cincy will be at home in the cold where they have shown they can pass the football the strength of their team. They will be going up against our weakest link and that’s our secondary. If you flip the script the same is true for them.

    For us to win we need to generate a pass rush and generate some turnovers neither we do well here of late. I expect a shootout and the team that takes care of the ball and the least penalized should win..

    Sorry for being but it is another bye week so plenty to say.


    • You have a future as an analyst if you ever want to go that direction DCP28.

      The breakdown above needs no additional commentary as it is dead on accurate. Your point about attacking the middle is one that I didn’t pick up on but thinking about it now, makes way too much sense. I thought that going with Hairston more would have been a piece of the gameplan any way given his style of slashing straight ahead, but I didn’t expect it to take 3 fumbles (2 lost) before he started getting that work.

      Temple did as you said…just enough to win and their defense was motivated against our O which was clearly out of sorts.

      Agree with your assessment of what lies ahead in Cincy. I do think we will get back to normal more for our offense unless we get windy/wet again. Cold will be an interesting variable for this group, but that is life in the AAC now going forward.

      One good thing for our team is that Carden is a veteran who works his ass off. I am sure he has broken the Temple game down over and again and will correct his ills.

      We need this Cincy game from a program perspective quite badly.

      Will try to give you a shout beginning of next week, ahead of the game…love to chat about it DCP!

      Best to you and your family.

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