In the season opener, Pirate fans – though disappointed – learned a few things about what to expect in the new and improved version of ECU football. We learned that our players are capable of being coached. They were in the right positions and appeared to be dialed in. We also learned that our kids are physically tough. And, we learned that we cannot lose our discipline in games without paying a big price (two fumbles one lost, one failed to take away) in the form of a 14 point swing.
In the win over Gardner Webb, we learned that when executed, our offense could be a pretty potent one. And, defensively, we are capable of taking the football away from another team. We learned that our defense aims to be aggressive (e.g., lots of man-to-man) and that our tackling is getting better.
Now we have the unenviable task to play Navy in the AAC opener for both teams. ECU has not fared well against the Midshipmen…just haven’t historically handled their Flex Bone triple option offense. This is a tall task for a young team prone to shutdown when facing adversity. To underscore the task ahead, consider that head-to-head, we are 1-5 vs the Naval Academy. Check out the record:
2016/11/19 East Carolina 31 – Navy 66 L
2015/09/19 East Carolina 21 – Navy 45 L
2012/10/27 East Carolina 28 – Navy 56 L
2011/10/22 East Carolina 38 – Navy 35 W
2010/11/06 East Carolina 35 – Navy 76 L
2006/09/02 East Carolina 23 – Navy 28 L
What stands out is NOT that we only won once (and that was controversial) but that in the remaining games only one other game was even close. Otherwise, Navy has absolutely destroyed us.
Fact: The Pirates have bigger, stronger, faster athletes on the field than Navy will ever have.
But, our teams have shown across all of these games, a penchant for lacking discipline, particularly on defense against the Midshipmen. Coach Mike Houston summed it up quite simply…do your job and only your job on every play. That takes Discipline with a capital D. Past teams have demonstrated that even a handful of gaffs and Navy can convert them into multiple touchdowns. Because where our kids have drifted in and out of discipline during these games, the Navy roster never waivers. Always precise. Always doing only their jobs. And relentless about it the whole way. Mind over Emotion.
So, what will we learn this weekend?
We will learn first if our kids are even capable of understanding and executing what is really a simple edict: Know your responsibility, do your responsibility correctly. Do it right the first time and every time.
Defensively it means using our superior speed and strength to fill gaps (most notably the A & B gaps) and tackle each player on every play. And, it is all about first down defense. Gotta put this offense behind the sticks early. For the linemen, that means while the Navy OL is cutting your knees, do not yield the gap. For our linebackers it means that the FB, the QB, and HB all should be hit every single play, particularly the FB. Yes, it is not fun, but it is the way to stop them. And no blitzing please…only helps them. Our DBs must be disciplined in expecting only a handful of passes and not allow these to be to wide open receivers because they have been lulled into cheating forward for the run. If we are disciplined on Defense, even Navy can turn the ball over…the highest risk in running this offense. Unfortunately, not something we have been good at the last three years.
If you are a film room wonk, this video (long) is all about defending the Flex Bone with a 4-2-5 defensive base. And preparing to defend it in less than 3 days.
Offensively, in the past, the fast-paced, no need to control the football mindset only contributed to our defensive demise. Navy waits for these offenses to make mistakes. They execute and count on younger players to make a mistake on each series and they pounce on it to create turnovers, force the punt, or otherwise kill a drive. They know that their offense can chew up a quarter on a drive so one or two stops can lock down a game if the opponent isn’t stopping them on defense.
So, our offense must contribute to our defensive success by extending drives. That takes discipline both in the play calling and the execution. In this game, it is very good for us to take bits of yardage and string them together. From an execution standpoint, we cannot afford dropped passes like last week. Against Navy those would be drive killers.
IMO our lesson for the weekend is: Does ECU have the discipline to compete with a team like Navy?
The best news is that we will know the answer to this question very quickly…as in their first offensive drive in case you were hoping to do something with your Saturday other than watch the Pirates. I suspect that we will learn some good things about this team.
Seriously though, with Coach Houston’s knowledge of this offense, what we see out there will not be a reflection of whether or not the coaching information was presented. It will come down to the players themselves. They will know what to do and where to be…but will they be unselfish and do what must be done.
Love to hear your thoughts on this.