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.
Totally agree Ron. If there ever was a moral victory in defeat, it was this one. There are glimpses of exciting things in our future. Maybe, just maybe, Coach Houston is building something that will guide us out of the wilderness we’ve been in for three plus years. We’ve got to be patient, but I think we may have at least bottomed out and are making the turn. I sure hope so.
The last game I saw in-person was in Provo against BYU. It was a game we nearly won. And if we had won it, I think our program’s trajectory would have been completely different. We would have had a winning season that year and would not have gone down the disastrous path of Scotty Montgomery. It was great to see a glimmer of hope last night. Here’s hoping we’ll get back to where we were a few years ago.
Ahoy Greg….thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Your point about that BYU game is on the money.
I’m excited about the team’s future under Houston.
Watched the game to the end because I wanted to see how we finished…not out of a sense of obligation. That was a good feeling.
Hope you are well Greg.
Nice job Ron,
I hauled 15 fellow Pirates to the Navy game and bailed at the half as I was so disgusted with our play. I don’t think our fans understand how far our program has sunk. Prior to joining the AAC a dream of mine sine 1980 ECU had dominated teams like Temple, UCF, Memphis, and all the others. Now we are thrilled not to get blown out by 4 scores. Our alumni seem to think that all we had to do was change the coach and 8 win seasons will return.
As you pointed out we look like a high school program against Temple who as we know has been a basketball school prior to the AAC. I did some digging and found that nearly every AAC program has 15 kids playing at the next level on Sundays while ECU has a total of 4. One is a great run stopper with 10 years in the league and the other 3 are hanging on as back up WR’s. There are no David Garrad’s, Jeff Blake, Chris Johnson’s, Vontay Leach or numerous guys that held roster spots. Our ability to attract talent has sunk to the level of a D2 program yet our alums seem to think all is well. That being said you do see some signs with the young kids however nearly all should be redshirts and given time to develop. Its not fair to them and we will never win rushing them on the field before they are ready.
ECU needs to become masters of working the transfer portal in the short term and begin to bring classes up together as a group who we recruit. Kids do not need to be on the field until they are in a position to physically compete at this level. In addition you see it up in Philly where the concentration of talent is centered around the power programs who play a national schedule. These kids know whats expected before they get to campus while playing and practicing against the best on a daily basis. Our focus needs to be getting kids like this not projects playing against poor competition.
I do see some signs of progress but we have a long way to go to be a .500 team in this league. I think we have another year after this before we can be competitive. Just hard to accept how far we have fallen.
I couldn’t agree more with your analysis DC. One good thing is that from what I can tell, Coach Houston doesn’t look for projects. He has a specific player he is looking for at each position and then goes after them. They may be 4 star guys or they may be no star guys, but they can play and thrive in his systems.
As you have long said, we need also to mine the DC, Philly, and Jersey areas along with our southern base states.
I am going to be closely watching to see what kind of guys he goes after in the trenches. That’s a great predictor of what the program will look like in 3 years.
I hope you are doing well DC.