You learn a lot, they say, in competitive losses.
Let’s face it, as an East Carolina University football fan, there has been a lot of losing over the last three years to examine. Only problem was, after each loss, pretty much all that we could learn was that the Pirates were playing an awful brand of football.
Last night, in ECU’s 27-17 loss to Temple, it was different. Very different.
The outcome, if we were all being honest, was pretty much understood before the ESPN broadcast started. Pre-game warm ups revealed a Temple football team that simply looked like a group of men juxtaposed against our collection of youngsters.
But while the outcome was predictable, this game, this effort by the Pirates also gave more than a few glimpses of what Coach Mike Houston and his staff are building at ECU. Glimpses…lots of them…of a future where the Pirates will win their share of games and be a tough out against any foe.
It was a night where the Pirates defense showed signs that conjured up a distant past that has been dormant, you could say, since Skip Holtz’s tenure at the Pirate helm. And, the unit also showed glimpses of a style that we have not seen here in even longer.
OK…while it is true that we never want to give up 490 yards of offense to an opponent, that number is a little bit unfair to hang on a defense that killed six (6) Temple drives, forced a turnover, and held the powerful offense to FGs on two other drives all while being on the field a full 10 minutes more than the opponent. This one is not on the defense, they put the offense in position to win this football game.
More than that, though, was how they played and the intensity the unit exhibited from the opening whistle to the final whistle…it was lights out (no pun intended).
A few glimpses.
One thing that is clear from this game is that DC Bob Trott’s influence is starting to emerge. Despite facing perhaps the most physical offensive line, backs and receivers they will face this season, the Pirates defenders showed a noticeable uptick in aggressiveness. There was some serious hitting happening out there all night. We were getting pressure on the QB and making contact on running plays in the backfield and at the gaps, with the defensive front looking pretty good off the edge with Kendall Futrell and Chance Purvis and in the gaps with Alex Turner and Jalen Price.
I can’t remember a time where we were so aggressive in playing man-to-man…it was refreshing to see. Even with those huge Temple WRs, our kids didn’t back down a bit. And, it is looking more and more every week that freshman Ja’Quan McMillian is a bonafide star in the making…perhaps ECU has a lockdown corner again.
Yes, there were breakdowns and with the offense doing very little between the opening and closing drives of the game, the defense eventually succumbed to the physical mismatch they were facing. But, they never gave up and never were out of the fight. This is something that can be built upon, not just next year, but each week.
Proud of their effort out there. They look like a rising D to me.
I think it was very clear that our offense needs a lot of work. We need to upgrade talent in pretty much every position. That said, there were some real glimpses out there though. While it is clear that QB Holton Ahlers needs to improve his passing game (mechanics and decision-making), when the OL allowed him time, he made some pretty beautiful passes, including to his old HS top receiver true freshman C.J. Johnson – a clear emerging star in this offense. Johnson, who notched his first 100-yard receiving game as a Pirate wasn’t the only bright spot and could be the go-to guy Ahlers can lean on as he grows into a more reliable passer, the many wide receiver drops notwithstanding.
Both RBs, the freshman Demetrius Mauney (3.8 ypc) and sophomore Trace Christian (3.7 ypc) ran hard and are very physical backs who fight for positive yardage. And, the offensive line, beat up a bit, had its moments. The first drive was a thing of beauty…and it demonstrates that they are capable of getting it done.
Now, if we can get the best out of the Defense and the Offense at the same time in a game, it may something to behold. But until then, the glimpses we are getting cast this team in a completely different light than the ECU teams that have been on the field the last three seasons.
The bye week comes at a perfect time for this young team to reflect on where they are, what they are doing, and what lies ahead.