The Hind-Sight Report: Breaking Down ECU’s 52-38 Win over Old Dominion

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The Pirates prevailed and that is all that matters today.

Ok…let’s start this with a general statement…this game went just about how I thought it would go with Old Dominion putting up big points, staying in the game till the late stages, and then ECU pulling away. However, ODU stays in it longer than I thought and we pulled away less than I thought. Getting the win is great, starting a 1-0 with a short week is a lot easier than the other way around. And, we got the W when other teams found themselves on the other side of the ledger against lesser opponents. Trust me, that starving team in West Virginia is worse off than our club will ever be this season.

HOWEVER…we also learned that we have a long way to go to be a team that brings home 10 wins this year, despite a schedule that points to that possibility.

So, some Monday Morning QB-like musings about our Pirates following the win on Saturday (and let’s not forget that it was a win).

To put this game in context, an analysis of the background for the game is in order, given ECU’s history for making even the easiest of tasks seem monumental. We all know that ODU is a fast-climbing (only back to football for 5 years now), well-funded, and well-planned football (recall how Marshall planned their step up, it was no accident that they had the players they had when they came up) program coming off an 11-2 season a year ago, stepping up to next level football. I get that the talent gap is supposed to be huge as they head into this first season with the big boys. BUT, let’s also remember a couple of points. ODU has made all the right moves in planning this step. They have a superb coach. They have been mining the talent-rich area in southeastern, VA, for talent prepping for this season. They have a quarterback that could start for ANY team in the country. Put him in a Texas A&M uni and he is Mr. Football (and has done it longer and better than that ungrateful punk who barely got a slap on the wrist from the NCAA).

Further, Taylor Heinicke is behind all but one of the same lineman who started every game last year, including three all-conference performers and an all-America. The other guy played a bunch at guard a year ago, though he didn’t start. Let’s look closer at that line, too. Jack Lowney (6-4, 295) with 31 starts, David Born (6-8, 335) with 26 starts, Josh Mann (6-2, 305) with 13 starts, D.J. Morrell (6-6, 325), and Connor Mewbourne (6-4, 290). Not a small front at all and they were experienced. At the skill positions, Heinicke has three receivers returning who had 55 or more receptions a year ago. And, in the backfield, capable runners experienced in pass protection.

Defensively, ODU was a disaster a year ago – like us – relying on their offense to win games while they sort of ran around the field trying to figure things out. ODU, too, hired a new defensive coordinator, and they brought in some 18 new defensive players via transfers, signees, etc., to sure up where they could. A work in progress, too, with the front seven being more reliable than the secondary.

Remember, this was not a middle of the road sub-division team, but rather among the best in that level.

So, what did I see in the game, after watching it live then re-watching the recording:

On our OFFENSE:

The good:

1. Shane Carden and the wide receivers are already rolling. Precise, effective, and efficient. Carden made fantastic decisions with the football, the receivers made catches (except for the three drops by Danny Webster and two by Reese Wiggins);

2. The offensive line did a great job in pass protection as did the backs, giving Carden all day to pick the ODU defense apart;

3. Carden ran when he needed to, bought time with his feet to make things happen, and was smart all day/night;

4. Justin Hardy was a beast (as expected) and showed that he can influence a game even when he does not score;

5. Davon Grayson has mitts…great catch on the fade route, particularly and he looks precise. I am so happy for him as he was one of my favs in the recruiting class after I interviewed him for Bonesville Magazine;

6. Cam Worthy looks to be a big-time guy…like to see him get more chances as the season progresses. Just two catches, but he looked like a seasoned starter on those two grabs;

7. Offensive pace was good and I thought Lincoln Riley conducted a great game plan, taking what was there for us and keeping the offense on full power the whole game;

8. Fast start was what we wanted and what we did. Well done;

9. Thought that C.J. Struyk looked great in their at center…kid is strong. Proud of him;

10. Happy to see Isaiah Jones get the TD since we burned his redshirt. I think many of our other receivers would have made the catch, but if he is going to play, then I hope he makes noise and he has started out with a bang! Great job Zay.

The bad:

1. Running game was anemic. Even though it was clear that ODU game-planned to take away the run (they didn’t want to have their defense pounded and ground down during the game), that we really couldn’t get anything going was a disappointment. You would think that with all of the passing Carden was doing, play action would have been ripe for the run picking. Not sure if our line cannot run block or if it was a rhythm thing since we were passing so well. Either way, we cannot have that imbalance going forward if we hope to win the tough ones;

2. The full-house pistol formation…man it looked confused and ugly. Yes, the goal-line fumble didn’t help, but it seems to me that if we are not able to run straight up, putting two big boys in the backfield only packs it in more defensively and plays to the ODU game plan. Not liking it;

3. We didn’t stretch the field – or even send up a flare that we can. Now, in fairness, we didn’t need to and perhaps it will pay dividends downstream if teams think we can’t and then we go over the top, but with Carden’s accuracy last-night, might have been worth trying it once;

4. OL penalties…too many with the amount of experience we have. We are fortunate that they didn’t kill us in the game.

5. Disappointed in the drops by Webster and Wiggins. We need them to be on fire every game. They both came back and made great plays later, but these are two of the veterans…c’mon guys.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

The good:

1. Trent Tignor is flat-out a stud Punter and we are fortunate to have him. He punts for average, but has precision about him. Don’t want to see him being used much, but nice to know we have a national caliber punter on the squad;

2. Coverage teams on kick0ff and punt were fantastic…just spectacular and thank God, because Heinicke was killing us already…think what he would have done with a short field. Return teams were good too, the little bit we saw of them;

3. Deep kickoffs…love ’em…keep them coming Warren Harvey.

The bad:

1. You cannot miss field goals inside of 45 yards…just can’t. Happy to see  Harvey hit his second one, but we cannot have a season of inconsistency at that position.

And, now, the pink gorilla in the room…the DEFENSE. Before I go into the good and bad, please note, I am not in the camp that saw the same old thing as last year, but man, do we need some work.

The good:

1. IMO, our pass coverage actually was better. When I re-watched the game, I used my “pause button” test to see if we have a clue and compared to last year, we are much improved in this area. Last season – I kid you not – when I would pause the recording, we literally would have NOT A SINGLE PLAYER anywhere in the frozen frame on most of the pass plays. Believe it or not, particularly early and late in the game, we had guys there…sometimes, they made plays and more times than not, the other guy made plays. Case in point, when our corner got beat on that bomb touchdown, he was in the guys shorts…great coverage, the pass was just frickin’ perfect…he had no chance.

2. The line backer play was pretty good, though inconsistent. I thought we played the run well and our linebackers looked more confident in coverage after two seasons of looking completely baffled on pass coverage. We were in a soft zone much of the time – the old bend-but-don’t-break – and I thought that we kept things in front of us for the most part.

3. When we brought inside pressure, we had success, meaning we got in position to make the sack or TFL…we just didn’t finish the plays (which can be corrected);

4. Defensive TD was a huge!!

5. Our safeties can really put the smack down on people…love how they hit;

6. Thought Josh Hawkins looked pretty good at corner.

The Bad:

1. Our tackling at times was not very good. We would be in position to make a play, but then miss the tackle. NOW…some of this had to do with the fact that Heinicke is simply an elite QB in terms of his sensibilities. The guy is just a gamer. We will not face a QB as good as him except for maybe Cato at Marshall (don’t start the Brenner talk with me…when we blitzed him, he was average).

2. I am concerned about our conditioning up front. Our guys looked winded from the second quarter on. When Ruff and crew came in, we new that our Offense was on and off the field quickly. No excuses for the big boys…they gotta get it done;

3. Not sure we dialed up the pressure schematically enough. When we blitzed inside, it had a real effect.

4. DEs seemed hit or miss on containment. When we contained, we had real shots at the QB, but when we got sucked in…Heinicke killed us;

5. Hate to even utter this because I am such a huge fan of our safeties, but they really do not seem to be able to cover very well. Hopefully just the Heinicke effect;

6. I was hoping that Adonis Armstrong would emerge as a greatly improved player as a senior…now I am worried more about that position;

OVERALL

Look, I am not going to look at a team that is 1-0 and hung 52 points on an opponent and say that we are anything worse than what I expected going in. Chances are, we have an offense that can score on ANYONE…including Virginia Tech. I think we do have that kind of offense.

I also think that the defense will prove to be much better than what we saw last night. I am pretty certain that the quality of ODU’s offense is such that they will beat some of the teams on the schedule they shouldn’t and I am predicting right now that they take Maryland down next week, but two TDs. They simply are an electric offense that is hard to stop…like our own. I think Rick Smith will break this one down and we will see incremental improvement. I also believe that the more traditional offensive teams we play, the more we will look improved. I think our defense will fare better against Virginia Tech, N.C. State, and North Carolina than it will against Marshall.

That’s my 10 cents…love to hear your thoughts good and bad.

Cheers all!

 

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10 responses to “The Hind-Sight Report: Breaking Down ECU’s 52-38 Win over Old Dominion

  1. ODU has a football team? (And scored 38 points against us?)

    • I hear you Robb…but they have a pretty good football team…particularly on offense.

      Fortunately, they stopped at 38 points and we had more on the scoreboard.

      Get your point though…

      Go Pirates!

  2. Great stuff Ron as usual. I really believe ODU would be a top team in the conference right now. You just know that Maryland is looking at film of our game and ODU is getting their full attention.
    I watched the FAU game on DVR and they looked very athletic but not nearly as skilled as us.
    Looking forward to going 2-0 and seeing a defense that is much more improved than the ODU game made them look.

    • Hi Ralph…

      I agree…if ODU were in CUSA, they would be competing for the East Division. Of course, they would now be a game back of the Pirates!!

      Maryland will not overlook ODU for many reasons, not the least of which the game they put up against us. I still think ODU takes Maryland this weekend…

      I am reading up on FAU and hope to see the offense keep the same fire going…back-to-back games like ODU, offensively, will give us some serious momentum.

      Will be putting most of my attention on watching our Defense, which I think will do much better against FAU than they did against ODU.

      Cheers!

  3. DC Pirate 28

    Ron: I like to take one step at a time when it comes to getting through a season. First get to 6 wins to become bowl eligible then you can focus on things like conference championships double digit win seasons and the rest of the glory that comes with it. It seems today that a win is a win compared to the fact that in the past it was more about how bad did you dominate your opponet. As for the positives Carden played well. We have weapons but I think as the season goes on we will miss both Jones and Soloman badly as teams will try to take away Hardy and the run game looks suspect. On D, I was impressed how much bigger and fitter we looked. That being said we could not generate anything of a pass rush and ODU just sat there and picked this team apart despite better coverage than what we saw last season. You make a point that ODU spent the time and money to build a solid program on the O line and skill positions. My question then becomes why cant we. Too often we enter seasons with huge holes because we don’t have the bodies to step in. I look around the country how all of these programs sign a bunch of transfers from major programs looking for playing time. In my opinion QB and WR should recruit itself as should RB when your program has put out 2 all pros in that position. The toughest positions to fill are across the D line where we have struggled. Bottom line if you can pressure with your front four you can have a dominant D like we did under Skip. If you cant generate a pas rush you cant stop anybody. Weather if its the spread offense we have given up on a 4-3 and switched to a 3-4 mainly because we cant find the bodies to fill across the line. Our ability to bring guys down after contact also needs work. What really stands out when you play every game on the edge is the importance of a good punter and the rest of the special teams. Being able to kick the ball in the endzone, punt the ball 45 plus yards and convert you field goal attemps is usually difference of winning or not. I was pleased with their efforts.

    • Very insightful post DCP28…as usual.

      Hard to find anything but wisdom in your comments. I agree on the 1 at a time philosophy, which I agree is a basic tenant for success at this level.

      I agree that the special teams look to be in very good shape and I give all the credit to Coach Doll who has really righted that portion of the Pirate ship. I particularly like how he is agnostic to the players and let’s the best performer play. Case in point: It would have been very easy to skip Trent Tignor in lieu of the scholarship kicker brought in last year, but Doll let the kid who was kicking best win. Tignor has an NFL leg and is showing NFL smarts too.

      On the DL…that is a tough one. When I watch the ODU film, I see quite a number of times where we were pushing a veteran ODU line (that has size) around but their QB was really, just special…ala Joe Montana…it was like he had eyes in the back of his head and his hips were like they could rotate 360 degrees. I stand by my thoughts that we have some good talent in the trenches, but when you play an experienced spread attack with a special QB…it is tough. I think Maryland is going to have it tough as well unless they saw something on film from our game.

      Having said that, I do think we are thin up front in terms of super talent akin to what we had last time Rick was here, but if you look back, aside from Linval Joseph, those DL guys were not your highly-touted guys. Wilson was an academic risk, Ross was not highly recruited, Josh Smith, undersized, Michael Brooks, not a big time recruit, Robert Jones ended up being moved, Booth didn’t really materialize…it was more serendipity that they grew into good ones. We are always going to struggle to land the big-time DL guys unless we somehow get ourselves into the in crowd (e.g., BCS conferences).

      I think when we come up against a running team or a more traditionally balanced team, our defense will look much improved. I am hoping we see some signs of it Thursday night.

      Thanks for the thoughtful post DC…keep ’em coming.

      Go, Pirates…Go!

  4. Ed Keller

    Great post. It was a very stressful game to watch as we just couldn’t stop them. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of that fumble recovery/TD to start the second half. Like you, I think we had an effective pass rush; their QB is just a beast. He reminds me of Joe Webb. The secondary still worries me; Heinicke went deep early in the game and would have had 6 if he hadn’t overthrown the receiver (who had badly beaten our secondary). I’m really looking forward to the FAU game. We should do well as I think they are less formidable than ODU.

    • Agree totally on the importance of the Defensive score AND on the misfire where Adonis Armstrong was beaten badly, Ed.

      I think we learn more about the defense in this game Thursday night. FAU used three quarterbacks in their loss to Miami, so I worry about the rookie QB curse that seems to haunt our team over the years, but none of them are any where seasoned and capable as Heinicke…not even close. If we get to their QBs then I feel better about the defense.

      Looking forward to Thursday night for sure.

      Cheers Ed!

  5. Greg Jones

    Ron – Excellent analysis as usual. Love reading your blog. Sorry I don’t comment as much as I should, but you are my ECU football brother from another mother.

    I agree that ODU is a better team then their conference/division would suggest. And I’m sure they got up for the Pirates. Nice to see our offense fire on all cylinders from the gate. We would have lost otherwise.

    The frustrating thing is obviously the defense. Notwithstanding ODU’s better than advertised talent, I expected less of a shootout in this game. New D coordinator, all Ruff’s signees, etc. should have produced better. Is building a stronger D really that difficult? I mean, come on.

    I’m still a glass half full Pirate. But, I want 19 points or less allowed against this Florida team Thursday. If we can’t spank them, we need to stop talking about a 10 win season. That said, I will be listening in Thursday night. Let’s.Go.Pirates!

    Greg

    • Yo Greg…great hearing from one of my PBOAMs…we should revive Pirate Booty, no?

      I hope you and the fam are doing great…I need to check in with Matt someday soon. FB makes it seem like I am totally connected, but I haven’t actually spoken to him in years.

      Your question though simple is such an important one…Why can’t we build defense here on a consistent basis? Why does it seem a monumental task to focus on building a complete team?

      History shows that we can do so…The Wild Dawgs were pretty good. Larry Coyer build a formidable defense (in one off season) at ECU under Logan. Skip had some pretty good defenses, too, so why not here, why not now and why not regularly? Ruff was a DC for gosh sakes!

      Our friend DCP28 noted one big piece of it, the ability to recruit and retain defensive linemen. Hard gig anywhere, but something that some coaches have proven to do well.

      I do thinks Rick Smith will build a better defense here both in the season and heading into AAC play, but it is hard to endure and I hope that ODU’s offensive talent is why we looked mediocre.

      Agree, too, that Thursday night is a bellweather game for our defense. We need to shut a team down…a real 40-something to less than 14 type score if we hope to have a shot at Virginia Tech, where points may be at a premium for our offense.

      Hey, great to hear from you Greg…don’t be shy my friend.

      Cheers!

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