ECU 35, Appalachian State 13: The Good, Mehhh, and Bad

In general, it was all good from my perspective in ECU’s season-opening 35-13 victory of in-state opponent Appy State. It was all good for several reasons, primary of which is that it resulted in a W. Meaning ECU is 1-0 to start the season and that is important.

Hard running…Dobson really looked like a legitimate top level back. Good to see it!

It has been said that most teams improve the most between Game 1 and Game 2 of the schedule, so with that in mind, the Pirates have a lot of work to do following the win as they prepare for a gauntlet of a schedule having to go on the road to play No. 9 South Carolina, dominating conference foe Southern Miss, and then in-state rival North Carolina.

There was a some real good in the game today, some surprisingly mediocre things (the Mehs) and some really worrisome things coming out of the win.

Let’s start with the good, IMO.

The Good Stuff:

1. The offensive game plan was appealing. They have obviously worked hard to be able to run and throw the ball in a more balanced fashion. Chiefly, they pounded the ball some and they also took shots deep by air, too, which resulted in open receivers behind the defense. I like that Lincoln Riley stuck with the run throughout. I also like that he stuck with Rio Johnson even when there was clearly an opportunity to put in Shane Carden early on. I was more inclined to see Carden as the starter, but Rio won the job and deserves to be given a chance to get himself comfortable at game speed. Kudos to Riley for a solid game plan…the offense could have scored 35 itself.

2. Additionally, it was clear that we have a stud receiving group. Bodie, Reese Wiggns, Justin Hardy, Derrick Harris, Lance Ray, Justin Jones….they were open all day – though it took  awhile for Rio Johnson to start finding and hitting them. Imagine what they will be like when Lance Ray is fully integrated into the system and with Danny Webster, Dayon Arrington, and Donte Sumpter back in the fold.

3. Kick coverage units played very well…(love how excited Zeek Bigger got on his big hit…looking forward to see more of that). Kick return units played well – with their limit opportunities.This is very encouraging. Special teams also generated a TD with Ray’s 90-yard KO return (and would have added a punt return for TD, had the grass not reached up and grabbed Justin Hardy on the way into the endzone. Punter Trent Tignor was super solid in his first start, averaging 44 yards per kick. Despite his misses…Warren Harvey definitely has a strong leg, too, so that is fixable.

4. The Defense gave up on 1 TD on the day and generated 3 turnovers and a Defensive score. Well done. And the defense bottled up – for the most part – the ASU run game. And, from television view, our Defense just looks FAST. They can move for sure. Thought the D line looked pretty solid – though it is clear we need Terry Williams back. Terrell Stanley is going to be a good one, but you could see a drop off when Michael Brooks rotated out.

5. QB Rio Johnson got better as the game wore on. Not only did he make plays, but he was able to get through his progressions better and was letting the ball go by the time the second half rolled in. The offensive line protected well with Johnson getting plenty of time. I really am warming up to Rio…what a great kid who really cherishes this opportunity. I think he could be a VERY GOOD quarterback here.

6. Very few penalties. Hallmark of a good team is to not shoot itself in the foot. Aside from the helmet-to-helmet 15 yarder (Falls), the Pirates were very sound in this department.

7. Michael Dobson was impressive. He ran hard and well, though he did fumble once (which was a problem for him in the past). Vintavious Cooper looks like he will be a nice back for the Pirates. He was definitely good in the pass receiving phase of the game…will be interesting when he is fully understanding the responsibilities, because he could be a guy who takes carries from others. Can see why the staff likes him so much.

8. Came out of the game relatively healthy…particularly of note…on the OL. That was nice. Thought the interior line, by the way, Will Simmons, Taylor Jordan, Jordan Davis and the reserves played a great game…really manhandled ASU’s interior.

9. It is clear that Camp Connors has been effective. Fewer of our guys were cramping up and we stayed healthy in that God-awful heat. Great job guys and Coach C…keep it up!!

10. The Pirate fans…none better. With the weather the way it was, you guys showed up anyway and stuck it out with the boys. A definite advantage for our team. I hope everyone who was overheated is feeling better.

The Meeehhh:

1.  The run blocking was ho-hum. Yes we rushed for more than 4 yards per carry, but our O-line was bigger and stronger than ASU’s and it should have been much easier to blow holes open earlier in this game. Of course, it was hard to tell at times because our backs – at least how it looked – were not always very good at finding the holes that were there as it seemed, particularly with Reggie Bullock, that there were some huge holes and he just missed them for some reason.  But, even if it was the latter, I really expected our OL to really just pound the hell out of a – frankly – smallish and young ASU defensive line. Kind of alarming.

2. Short-passing game was not nearly effective as it has been in the past – perhaps because teams know ECU as not a vertical attacking team. ASU’s corners were up at the line of scrimmage looking for the screens. Obviously had Rio hit on one or two of those wide-open deep routes, the underneath game would have materialized, but this is why it is critical that our game plan attacks all levels of the defense…dink and dunk days are done.

3. Linebackers were not as strong as expected against the pass, particularly on the outside. It may be that Derrell Johnson and Maurice Falls are still getting the system responsibilities down, but at times they looked very lost in pass coverage. They were not bad, but with our corners playing 10 yards off the ball and ASU throwing screens and short passes, we got ate up in the flats, IMO. The inside backers looked as expected. Kyle Tudor looks freaking fast…is that true? Jeremy Groves played well, too.

The Bad:

1. Rio Johnson must be more accurate next week. He got better as the game wore on as he went from pulling the string a bit early on to being the gun-slinger we had heard so much about. His “strong arm” emerged once he got his confidence up and going. Lance Ray is going to get open deep a lot this year and we have to have a QB who can get the ball to him behind the defense.

2. Our pass rush was not as pronounced as it should have been. We got almost no pressure on the QB until the ASU’s  offensive line start to wear down. NO SACKS…really? That must change  if we hope to not get bombed by some of our opponents. It is troubling that we could not beat up this ASU O-line out of the gate. WE MUST pressure the QB if we hope to be  a good defense.

3. Our corners need to improve greatly. We were so off the ball that every small completion they completed netted a ton of yards. They do not seem as physical I had hoped they would be.

4. Our Field Goal kicking must improve. 0-2 is not going to cut it. Need that to be corrected ASAP because 3 points could spell the difference over the next three weeks.

5. Turnovers. Defense did a good job generating 3 turnovers, but the offense coughed it up twice. Yes, we are still -1 overall, which is good, but there is no excuse for the turnovers. The INT was bad on two counts. Rio forced the ball into a bad spot BUT Derrick Harris has to make that catch…we are too talented and deep at WR for a guy NOT to make that catch. Having Webster back is going to be helpful to put pressure on the IWRs in that position. The fumble….ugggh…protect the damn football.

6. The Defense gave up 400 yards of total offense to Appy State…really? That is unacceptable. If this defense is going to be a legitimate top-25 D…it is going to take a hell of lot better than this. I am hoping that this is more a function of the offense stalling out so much in the first half and the ridiculous heat, but if that wasn’t reason, the D needs to really turn it on this week or we will get crushed in the next three games. That said, if the corners and OLBs can fix the run-support (for the corners) and the pass coverage support (for the OLBs) this week, the defense numbers will probably fall in line with expectations (~300 ypg).

Overall, there is a lot to build on, but the team has very little time to pop in the tape, note the needs, and implement the fixes. With a trip to a pissed-off-with-a-lot-to-prove No. 9 Gamecocks team, the Pirates need to play a near-perfect game to come out with the upset. Can this team do it? Absolutely…I am not sold that USC is that good nor am I sold that we are not a pretty darn good team. The game next week will depend largely on what Rio Johnson learns this week and what his comfort level is come game time. He has the weapons around him. If he makes good decisions and sharpens his accuracy, we will hang points on the Gamecocks (despite their defensive line). Defensively, the good news is that we look pretty staunch against the run, which is what we will face in Columbia. We need to put the clamps on Marcus Lattimore (like we did a year ago) and force the back-up QB to beat us in the air. Given our past proclivity to make back-up QBs look like NFL Hall-of-Famers, I am very worried, but our game plan has to be to force them to throw, meaning our corners and OLBs need to sharpen up QUICKLY.

This week will be the longest yet…Hope the weather is a little milder for our boys.

Please let me know your thoughts on the good, mehh, and bad.
Go Pirates!

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “ECU 35, Appalachian State 13: The Good, Mehhh, and Bad

  1. Blackbeard's Ghost

    You pretty much summed it up RC. I think the most important detail of all is, the play of the team as a whole as the day went on improved. We held Appy to just 150 total yards the second half and to only 3 points. We were more proficient scoring per possession in the second half also.
    This team can be a very solid team but we aren’t where we could be…yet. The question is…how fast can we get there?
    We will have little time to find out as we go from a gazell like team this past week in Appy to a rhino style team next Saturday in the Gamecocks.

    Great stuff sir!

    • BBG…as always, your inputs are always appreciated. Your comment about the full team improving as the day went on is, indeed, the most important take away. First games are first games so I am now even more eager to for next week.

      USC can be beat by this team…question is, can we start on Saturday where we left off yesterday?

      Thanks for taking the time to drop a comment.

  2. Greg Jones

    Hi Ron. Great analysis of the first game. I didn’t get a chance to watch the game (no FSN up here in Toronto), but I poured over the stats after the game. I too am impressed with the balanced offense and the way the O line held up. I was very happy to see the lack of penalties, which is something that has plagued this team for 30 years. This is finally Ruff”s team. Maybe he’s got them to a truly disciplined state. One can hope.

    The defensive stats gave me pause. The only chance we have to dominate our schedule this year is to put up a strong defense. Game one was not encouraging on that front. Agree with you about field goals. We’re gonna need some consistency from that unit. First game jitters???….maybe. But, let’s look for some improvement next week.

    Speaking of next week. I give us a fighting chance. I think Ruff has the stuff to get their heads in the right place to compete. But, they’re gonna have to execute pretty close to 100% to have a chance. At the end of the day, we beat an in-state, fired-up rival by a respectable margin. I’d much rather roll into Columbia after that outcome than by squeaking one out or losing the opener. So……Let’s go Pirates!!!!!

    Arrrrrrrggghhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!

    • Greg! Thanks so much for stopping in…hope this note back to you finds you doing well up there in Canada. Drop me an email and let me know what you are up to. I see Matt is back in the US…I know he probably wanted to stay where he was, but glad he is back and the fam is safe.

      I totally agree about USC being beatable. The defense worries me some, but your point about the nature of first games along with the idea that Appy was playing its Super Bowl, gives me some hope that the step up next week is not as monumental as it might seem on paper.

      Keep in touch Greg.

      Cheers.

  3. sean

    Great write up. Agree with most of what you said. Couple of questions:
    1. What will it take to for Ruff to pull Rio from the game? Coach seems very loyal, almost to a fault.
    2. Is D line not as good as advertised? I was really surprised also at how the very young and very inexperienced App O line battled us in the trenches.
    3. Same question about D Johnson and company not being as good as we were hoping. If this performance was simply growing pains, then what were those growing pains?
    Thanks again for your insight.
    Sean

    • Hey Sean…appreciate your comments…thanks for checking in.

      My thoughts on your questions: I think Rio will need to show complete comfort from the opening play next week. He finished very strong and I think that playing loose, he has a chance to be very good. To me, it would take multiple poor decisions against USC for him to be hooked. I think we will see him play a good game next week. Each week he plays well, then his leash gets longer. That said…I really would like to see Carden. A lot of the players I spoke to say he is a pure playmaker – which he showed on his one real snap yesterday. Till Rio backslides, though, I am all behind him. The loyalty thing in Ruff, I definitely see it and hopefully he can manage it. Not just at QB, but at all positions.

      On the D line and linebackers issue. I thought Brooks was awesome and Pegues and Dixon played well too. I felt that the issues were with Johnson and Falls, to which I credit the learning curve. This was first live action at OLB for those two against a team that was jacked up. I think everyone knew that coverage could be an issue for them both. It showed and worse, I thought that both made some very bad containment blunders in the game (caught looking in). That said…particularly Johnson, will get it right quickly. Too good not to be helping us. I was more concerned that Baker looked similarly lost. I think in pass coverage some of the corner play may have made the OLBs look more lost than they really were. No matter what, Brian Mitchell – I am sure – will address it.

      Bottom line…the defense can be very good and I expect that they will look even better next week. Game plan assuredly will seek to box up Lattimore and force the QB to pass. I really hope Paulk can come back. He played well against USC a year ago and we need him badly.

      Thanks for stopping in Sean…

    • Hey Sean…appreciate your comments…thanks for checking in.

      My thoughts on your questions: I think Rio will need to show complete comfort from the opening play next week. He finished very strong and I think that playing loose, he has a chance to be very good. To me, it would take multiple poor decisions against USC for him to be hooked. I think we will see him play a good game next week. Each week he plays well, then his leash gets longer. That said…I really would like to see Carden. A lot of the players I spoke to say he is a pure playmaker – which he showed on his one real snap yesterday. Till Rio backslides, though, I am all behind him. The loyalty thing in Ruff, I definitely see it and hopefully he can manage it. Not just at QB, but at all positions.

      On the D line and linebackers issue. I thought Brooks was awesome and Pegues and Dixon played well too. I felt that the issues were with Johnson and Falls, to which I credit the learning curve. This was first live action at OLB for those two against a team that was jacked up. I think everyone knew that coverage could be an issue for them both. It showed and worse, I thought that both made some very bad containment blunders in the game (caught looking in). That said…particularly Johnson, will get it right quickly. Too good not to be helping us. I was more concerned that Baker looked similarly lost. I think in pass coverage some of the corner play may have made the OLBs look more lost than they really were. No matter what, Brian Mitchell – I am sure – will address it.

      Bottom line…the defense can be very good and I expect that they will look even better next week. Game plan assuredly will seek to box up Lattimore and force the QB to pass. I really hope Paulk can come back. He played well against USC a year ago and we need him badly.

      Thanks for stopping in Sean…

    • Hey Sean…appreciate your comments…thanks for checking in.

      My thoughts on your questions: I think Rio will need to show complete comfort from the opening play next week. He finished very strong and I think that playing loose, he has a chance to be very good. To me, it would take multiple poor decisions against USC for him to be hooked. I think we will see him play a good game next week. Each week he plays well, then his leash gets longer. That said…I really would like to see Carden. A lot of the players I spoke to say he is a pure playmaker – which he showed on his one real snap yesterday. Till Rio backslides, though, I am all behind him. The loyalty thing in Ruff, I definitely see it and hopefully he can manage it. Not just at QB, but at all positions.

      On the D line and linebackers issue. I thought Brooks was awesome and Pegues and Dixon played well too. I felt that the issues were with Johnson and Falls, to which I credit the learning curve. This was first live action at OLB for those two against a team that was jacked up. I think everyone knew that coverage could be an issue for them both. It showed and worse, I thought that both made some very bad containment blunders in the game (caught looking in). That said…particularly Johnson, will get it right quickly. Too good not to be helping us. I was more concerned that Baker looked similarly lost. I think in pass coverage some of the corner play may have made the OLBs look more lost than they really were. No matter what, Brian Mitchell – I am sure – will address it.

      Bottom line…the defense can be very good and I expect that they will look even better next week. Game plan assuredly will seek to box up Lattimore and force the QB to pass. I really hope Paulk can come back. He played well against USC a year ago and we need him badly.

      Thanks for stopping in Sean…

  4. Great analysis RC.

    When you get a chance, check your email.

  5. ToTheHilt

    I agree with your thoughts, I expected our OL to really take it to the AppSt. DL considering they were starting one soph and two redshirt freshman. I never felt that they took control of the LOS. Same think on the DL, I thought the AppSt defense looked as good jamming the middle as we did. No question that if the defense has a ways to go to reach the top 25 in defense – 400 yards offense? – not too good. BTW – greatly enjoy your blog and your postings – they offer great depth and insight.

    • Welcome any time TTH…thanks for dropping in.

      I am hoping that the long-time ECU trend of playing up or down to competition level holds true and we see a tougher defense on the field next week. The OL is the unit I am most interested in seeing next week as they face a deep and talented DLine at USC.

      I think we will see improvement across the board, but how much? That is one question. The other is will that be enough to beat USC? I watched the USC-Vandy game and saw a very beatable USC team, but I think it will take a near perfect game from the OL and secondary to do it. And of course, Rio Johnson must continue to improve (not back step at all).

      Cheers and Happy Holiday.

  6. OldPirate

    Some food for though.

    A lot of the things mentioned are accurate, Rio was nervous then settled in, think back to your first day of work how nervous you had been that day. Rio will improve and the way he lead the offense in that heat was impressive, even when the Pirates struggled I. The first half he kept his composure and played effectively

    What a lot of people don’t understand though is that the gap between FBS(1-A) and FCS(1-AA) is closing fast the only real difference between top tier FCS schools and mid major conference teams is the number of scholarships available to FCS teams. Teams like ECU and other CUSA, MAC, and Mountain West teams are having to. Impede. It only with BCS AQ schools for talent,but also these top tier FCS schools. Appalachian State is and has been one of the fastest teams in the FCS over recent years. On top of that they have been disciplined, well coach and competitive. The kids at Appalachian don’t shy away from playing the big boys. They have played LSU twice, ECU twice, Va. Tech, NC State, and Michigan over the past seven years, the staff and players know that they must be focused in order to compete on the same level that these teams play on week in and week out. Appalachian has had athletes over the last seven years with Kevin Richardson, Armanti Edwards, Richie Williams, Cortez Gilbert, Brian Quick, Dexter Jackson, Travaris Cadet(who nearly beat ECU three years ago) and Corey Lynch just to name a few who have played or practiced at the next level. The only reason I came away from the App game concerned was how well their young line played against our D.

    Remember there was a reason why Wake Forest said that they didnt want to play Appalchian any more after the 2003 season.

    The good part of the day was the fans who stuck it out in Dowdy to see the finish, I understand that fans with young kids and our older patrons might not have been as well suited for that heat, and needed to go home or stick to the shade. But the fans who hung with it great job the players and staff must have loved it. I know it was hot in Section 15.

    So let’s enjoy this win, rehydrate and remember Go Pirates…

    • Hi Old Pirate…sage commentary there…thanks.

      I agree that the type of players that ASU has attracted are very close to those in D1 level and Moore is an excellent coach – the OL and DL on ASU played technically perfect – it appeared. The skill players many times are D1 capable. The only difference is that we had 20 more scholarships to offer.

      I share your concern about the how the OL handled our front and that has me concerned. Though by the second half, our depth showed. What also concerned me was that their OL and DL are not a bunch of veterans – in fact – quite the opposite which does bother me. We should have blown them away to some degree. However, overall the team had a good accounting for itself and to give up only a single TD and to dominate the 4th quarter has me excited.

      On Rio, I think he has a huge upside and was very calm in the pocket. My only worry is that his accuracy looked a little suspect on too many plays. On the other hand, he also seemed pretty marksman like on many of his completions. I am chalking it up to nerves and first game acclimation.

      Fortunately, ASU had speed in the skill positions which gave our team a good dry run for what they will see with USC next week.

      No matter what happens next week, I see a team that – sans a step backwards – can compete for the CUSA title.

      Thanks for dropping in OP…love the commentary.

      • rc

        thanks PharmaPirate for your information and insight…just heard Riley’s comments on BB’s show..he is going to sink or swim with Rio..there is something about this staff that is worrisome about substitutions..they want to be so right when they pick a starter..it is like the nonstarter is the enemy. i always thought that substitutions brought the best out of everybody involved..anyway,this is not good for this team. my prediction based on saturdays game is that too much Rio will mean too much Gamecocks. here again hope i am wrong! thanks again,rc

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