A Strong Finish! Bowl Victory Gives Last Glimpse of Historic Team and a Preview of History to be Written

Ruff has brought the program along nicely.

Ruff has brought the program along nicely.

Even the way the Pirates won the Beef O’Brady Bowl over Ohio seems fitting. A strong start, a frustrating couple of quarters, and then a dominating finish…seems to be a microcosm of a season that really – save the debacle at Marshall – probably should have been a 12-win season and a Top-20 final ranking. But there was a lot on display on Monday that bodes very well for this football program as the equipment staff gets to work on scraping and peeling off Conference USA logos from all-things ECU during the off-season.

The Pirates showed an ability to finish that has been missing for several years now as this program saw bowl game after bowl game slip from their fingers after memorable seasons. The unbelievable turn of events against Kentucky (was it a fumble??), the nightmare against Arkansas (really, three opportunities to win it?), and the fade against ULL (how do we just die in the 4th quarter?)…all good Pirate teams…all horrible finishes and all the ilk that makes a program stalled just short of breaking out. But on Monday, when it looked like another fail in the works, this team regrouped and dominated its way to a convincing exclamation point to the 10-win season.

If the program ever needed that validating win, it was this one. It didn’t matter that the opponent was a blah MAC team that was lucky to be in the game at all…it could have been a high school team really because it was the W that mattered more than the level of competition or name brand of the opponent. With the Pirates exiting CUSA and moving into the American, the table had to be set. With the continued churning in college football, the AAC is likely to be another stepping stone for programs like ours, fighting to get to the highest level of college football and because of this, we can no longer afford any flatline seasons…we have to be an 8-win team in our down years and a double-digit winner otherwise. That is all that matters now.

What we saw in the bowl game, IMO, is evidence that Ruff and is his staff, if nothing else, have truly been developing talent and depth at ECU. If you consider the fact that injuries and disciplinary actions decimated the receiving corps, injuries hit the OL, and the defense weathered injuries at linebacker, disciplinary action on the defensive line, and cycled in a ton of youngsters and yet, this team found a way to win 10 games…it says something for the building that Ruff continually notes in his press conferences and junket opportunities.

For this team, which will see not only 21 seniors graduate, but also, among them, some names that have truly become the faces for the program’s rise back to championship level play. It is going to be tough to not hear names like Magazu, Tudor, Thompson, Johnson, Dobson, Woullard, Holmes, Armstrong, and Pegues in 2014. It will be weird not hearing Cooooop or Simmons, ElSawi, Davis, Wiggins, Pasut, and Ray on the offensive side of the ball. It will be odd not having Tignor back there booming kicks and pinning them inside the 20, consistently without error.

Yet, at the same time, it seems like this may be the first time that I can remember an ECU program poised to move forward from a big season in position to repeat the feat even in a tougher league. Yes, there is work to be done – specifically thinking about the secondary and the offensive line. But the bowl game was evidence that this year’s team (and coaches) have a true eye to the AAC. Depth runs aplenty in the program and there is talent….oooooh yes…gobs of it in the coffers.

Consider that even with the number of seniors – those names above – from an overall talent perspective…things don’t look to bad. Hey…let’s take a quick look, position by position and think through what returns shall we? A fair, unbiased cut at it?

Let’s start on O…

Quarterback – High Risk, but such High Rewa

rd: There is no way around the fact that if Shane Carden played at a branded school or just down the interstate a bit, he would be in the Heisman mix right out of the gate next season. I truly hope that even if it is meager, that our higher-ups push that some going into 2014 season. He deserves that and truly has delivered in the spirit of that award. I am sure that Lincoln Riley will have Shane working on the vertical game non-stop between now and spring and if Carden can add that to the rest of his bag of tricks…he will be a guy who has a legitimate chance of playing on Sundays. He has already proven that he can win games with the team on his back and will only get better. Of course, the biggest concern at QB is the one we had all season, really. I believe the heir apparent to Carden is Kurt Benkert. If you have followed me, you know that this has been my thought since he came into the program. No slight to Cody Keith, but Benkert is a similar prospect to Carden and has all the tools and will be ready when his time comes. Unfortunately, he still has to acclimate to game conditions so it would be much better if he – or whomever is to be the next starter – got some clean up reps in 2014. I think from a football smarts perspective, Benkert is equipped to be pressed into the role, but let’s hope there is a different path. I am pulling for Keith to make it a tough go in spring, but don’t feel as confident in him as I do in the younger prospect. If healthy, we have an elite QB heading into his final season taking up into our inaugural year in the AAC.

Jones, Carden, and Hardy are just a few of the top talents returning next season.

Jones, Carden, and Hardy are just a few of the top talents returning next season.

Receiver – Our cup truly runneth over: Justin Hardy, the all-time Pirate receiving leader, returns at the slot for his final campaign to lead a deep, talented, and well-distributed group of outstanding receivers. With Hardy, Isaiah Jones, and Bryce Williams inside, and Cam Worthy and Davon Grayson outside, the core of the corps is nothing short of stellar. Throw in DaQuan Barnes on the outside and the unit is deep. With the addition (or re-addition, that is) of Danny Webster and Jimmy Williams inside and Jabril Solomon on the outside…wow…simply wow! We have the weapons to really hose up a defense, particularly if we can solidify the deep passing game.

Running back – Glimpses of greatness: We will miss Vintavious Cooper, no doubt. However, Breon Allen has already shown us that he has the goods to be a big-time threat in the same mold as Cooper, with a little more juice in the tank, albeit with a little less power. Allen’s limited action has still been enough for a decent highlight reel and he will be a senior in 2014…so my expectation is more of the same out of the back field. Chris Hairston has shown glimpses of why the coaches like him – straight ahead and powerful, with a nose for the goal line. The wildcard is, IMO, rising sophomore Marquez Grayson. At 6-1 and 200 pound and slasher skills, Grayson brings a different type of animal in the backfield and could be a guy who stirs things up in spring camp. We are solid, if not above average at RB heading into 2014.

Offensive Line – Serendipity in the form of injury: In retrospect, we may all be feeling a bit better about the offensive line due to a bit of bad luck turned serendipity for the program. When ElSawi was hurt, it forced Tre Robertson into the line-up at right tackle, as a starter. The coaches have said all along that Robertson was in the mold of a Will Simmons, and it showed when he got his chance. As a result – along with upstart C.J. Struyk eventually taking Taylor Hudson’s job at center – the offensive line composition for a good stretch – the home stretch – of the season was three sophomores and two seniors – the guards. Hence, we return three of five “starters” on the offensive line, seeking replacements for the guards, Simmons and Jordan Davis. Add to that the fact that Hudson, who can move easily to guard, and you are looking at returning four OLs with starter experience. Not a bad start for a rebuild and provides solid continuity for the offensive skill players.  Drew Gentry saw – another guy who has experience at guard – saw action in 13 games, J.T. Boyd in 8, Stewart Hinson in 5, and Chaz Lowery in 5. Throw into the mix, rising RS Frosh Larry Williams – who nearly had his RS lifted simply because he is already ready – and the Pirates have a ton to work with up front. Maybe not as big a drop-off as expected.

Flipping over to defense, let’s start with saying that numbers graduating don’t tell the whole story.

Defensive line: Another year older and better: Losing Lee Pegues is a tough one, but on the whole, I expect the defensive line to be even tougher, and better in 2014. With Chrishon Rose and Terry Williams both starters at the nose (or split in an even front), the middle is in great shape. Demetri McGill also helps here, having seen plenty of action this season. On the ends, Terrell Stanley – a rising junior – returns and opposite him, Jonathon White was a major player this season in his 13 games (1 start) at the other end. With Fred Presley – a surprise in 2013 – getting action in 11 games and playing some defensive end – we have some depth along with Randall Anderson – another frosh who the coaches nearly played this year already. And, a healthy Jeton Beavers should also bolster up front. The risk…yes, some young guys need to step up for depth at the ends, but overall, a veteran group with plenty of game experience.

Linebackers: They just keep on coming: When starting linebackers Kyle Tudor and Jeremy Grove went down to injuries this season, the sky appeared to be falling, but before the clouds touched down, we found out that the back-ups were really just starters in different numbers – and actually – brought some different skills to the position, starting with speed. Brandon Williams and Zeek Bigger were simply fantastic and when Tudor and Grove returned…the inside was simply badass. Well…don’t look now, but Grove, Williams, and Bigger all return in the middle and really are just looking for a fourth guy to step up and make a quartet. Perhaps Jake Geary moves inside and is that guy and if not Geary, look for Davaris Brunson to seize the day…he is a very athletic, big-sticking backer who saw action filling in at fullback some this season. Regardless…the inside is likely to be better than last season. On the outside…we take a hit losing all-everything backer Derrell Johnson – probably to the NFL and quietly effective Gabe Woullard. However…Montese Overton will now get to run the position full-time and he is probably one of the top NFL prospects on this team. Opposite of Overton may be a very experienced Maurice Falls (hopefully full strength), giving the Pirates two experienced guys on the outside. But there is more. Dayon Pratt played well in limited action and Reese Speight saw a bit of game action as well. Without a doubt, the outside is where the questions are, but even with that, there is some very serious starter-type talent there in Overton and Falls and some great rising talent behind them.

Secondary: Same old song and dance: Well, heading into this season, we really had a similar problem in as much as the secondary was weak and devoid of much in the way of proven starters, sans Damon Magazu at safety. This will be the unit that must find stars from guys with limited experience. Departing corner Adonis Armstrong proved to be a very serious corner in 2013 so DC Rick Smith has his work cut out for him, having to replace 3 starters in the back end. But, let’s take a look at what is back. Detric Allen comes back as a starter at one corner and the other corner position will be a battle between two experienced back-ups in Josh Hawkins – who has some starts in his past – and Dashaun Amos who saw action in 13 games in 2013. Lamar Ivey, who saw action at corner in 2013 may need to move back to safety to sure up the wide open positions there. Ivey was a safety for the 2012 season and can do the job. Back out to corner, the kid I have been most excited about is DaShawn Benton. If you don’t know who he is, re-watch game films…his RS was lifted and he was stellar on special teams. He is a cocky, talented corner who comes in a big body at 6-0, 175 pounds with speed and agility. He is going to be a good one…hopefully sooner than later. The other safety job may be manned by Domonique Lennon who saw action in 11 games. Also, Rocco Scarfone should be back at full speed in 2014 for either corner or safety duties. This is a position that will require a lot of work for Rick Smith, but in 2013, he was able to shape a secondary that was decent and will do so again in 2014.

Special Teams: A Kicking Dilemma: Special teams is a mixed bag for 2014. In regards to the coverage and return units…should be very solid again. However, we are desperately in need of a punter with the departure of Trent Tignor. Simply put, next year’s punter is likely not even on the roster right now, so the likelihood of a punter anywhere near the abilities of Tignor is pretty remote…circle this position. And Tignor also was the holder, so there is some risk at that very critical job. Place kicking was not a strength this season so even with Warren Harvey back…you have to also circle this as a risky spot in the line-up.

All in all, I would say we are well equipped to move to the AAC next season and be ready to run at the title, even against tougher talent.

That’s my take on the here and now of ECU football.

Congrats to this team, they deserve it

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30 responses to “A Strong Finish! Bowl Victory Gives Last Glimpse of Historic Team and a Preview of History to be Written

  1. Chris

    Thanks Ron… great analysis as always.. I want to go a little off topic with my comment tonight… I was at the bowl game on Monday, and while I relish in the win, there was a significant portion of the game I didn’t enjoy. I enjoy Lincoln Riley’s brand of offense, I really do. It’s exciting and has to be difficult for opponents to prepare for, not to mention it has to be effective in recruiting the skill positions who see an opportunity to show off their skills. However, what I don’t like is that he seems to be so intent on establishing that brand, that he doesn’t effectively game plan against an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Going into this game, even I knew about Ohio’s Jekyll and Hyde defensive prowess as being one of the best teams in the country against the pass and one of the poorest against the run. I found myself screaming at Riley during the game to PLEASE give Cooper the ball. The few times he and Allen touched the ball in the first 3 quarters, they were ripping off major yardage. Yet, it took until the fourth quarter for Riley to really start pounding them with the running game and taking over the game. We should have had control of that game from the opening snap. If we continue that, “we’re going to establish our style regardless of an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses” approach to game planning, it will be difficult to be successful in the more competitive AAC in my opinion… Does anyone else share this opinion, or am I off my rocker with this perception?

    Go Pirates!

    • Hi Chris…welcome as always!

      I think your thoughts are an interesting avenue of discussion. I have tumbled that same concern over in my head, although from a different bent. Going back two years ago, I didn’t think LR had it in him to even develop a running game. I felt like he was sold on the Air Raid attack and it was live or die by it. We ran our defense into the ground with an offense that was fast to score or fast off the field without points and it showed up in the L column and defensive stats.

      But then, LR surprised me last year in developing a run game and an ability to slow things down – albeit relative only – and gave the offense a new dimension. He did the same thing a year ago in adjusting our “no traditional TE” policy and working an effective true TE package into the system with great effectiveness.

      This year, I saw LR’s reluctance to establish the run as two things: 1) Carden’s ridiculous effectiveness early on; and 2) lack of confidence in our running game.

      In my mind, LR is evolving as a coach and seems open to tinkering with the system to be something special…that is, I think he learns and reacts and is willing to try new things to differentiate the offense.

      However, I noticed the same thing in the game plan during the 2nd and 3rd quarters and couldn’t understand the thinking either. I know you know my thoughts on overall game-planning in general and how this staff for years seemingly struggles with zeroing on weaknesses in the other team and inability to make in-game adjustments. I do believe that the staff – chiefly Rick Smith – has changed that latter point, showing great ability to adjust defensively in a game, IMO.

      To me, the saving grace here on the offense is that LR is so young, he will only get better each year and he is already pretty damn good. If he can coach Carden’s long game up, I think the offense rolls again next season.

      Chris…always love your analysis and insights…keep em coming.

      Cheers!

      • Pirate John

        Gonna have to disagree with you guys on the running plays. Going over the bowl stats, we had 46 running plays and 47 pass plays. Was in the stadium and there was a definite change in officiating in the second quarter when we went up 14-0 and Coop was hitting the big runs, opened up by the short passes. Ohio started mugging our receivers at the line and the uncalled pass interferences were obvious.

        LR, after the half, went to runs by Coop/Breon that were mostly giving short results, and changed the plan to long passes and designed Shane runs. Shane had 56 yards of positive run yardage. This opened up the field and stopped them from stacking the line and only playing the short throws. BIG halftime adjustment IMHO by LR that opened up the big runs in the fourth quarter.

      • Welcome John…thank you for the comments.

        Funny you zeroed in on an area in the bowl game that really bothered me in that was the fact that the corners from Ohio were really getting away with “mugging” – which is a very apt description. There were 3 or 4 plays early – starting with the first pass attempt to Hardy that were clear pass interference with no call at all. I agree that that alone can change a game plan in itself.

        As I noted in my original response, I think that this whole staff is evolving nicely and Lincoln is one for sure who is showing abilities to refine the O based on the skills and defensive opportunities.

        BTW…I also thought that the OL from Ohio was flat out tackling our guys on plays without any whistles…reminded me of the ODU game where they were also basically tackling our guys.

        Thanks for the alternative view…love the analysis responses!

        Cheers!

      • Chris

        I’m not surprised it ended up balanced, but it didn’t start that way. It took a lot of running in the 4th quarter to get it that way. Everybody points to balance as the goal. Overall as an offensive philosophy, I’d agree that’s the goal. However when you are facing a team who is in the top 20 against the pass and in the bottom 20 against the run, what’s wrong with one game where you have more running plays in order to exploit their weaknesses? We didn’t need to pass to open up running lanes. They were already open. They couldn’t stop Coop or Allen all game long.

      • Pirate John

        In reply to your last post, Chris, an analysis of the play by play doesn’t agree. We ran the ball equal to or more than we passed it in every quarter but one-the first, which was the best offensive quarter we had. I believe that Ohio thought like you did and we surprised them with 70% passing in the first quarter. Three long drives, two scores. We ran the ball more than passed in the next two quarters, but had only one RB carry longer than ten yards. LR’s halftime adjustments were huge – Shane designed runs (56 yards) and long passes (one completion and two PI calls). Those two moves caused Ohio to back off the LOS muggings and also not run their safeties to the LOS to stop the run, which opened the run back up in the fourth quarter. For all the accusations that our coaching staff can’t adjust, IMHO this was one of LR’s best called games.

      • Chris

        I hear ya and you are certainly entitled to your opinion. All I can tell you is I was there watching them with only six in the box and we kept throwing it. I know because I was screaming at them to run it throughout the first three quarters. I was on the party deck but hadn’t fell over the edge yet. Meanwhile, we let them stay in the game, even take the lead until we started running it heavy in the 4th quarter. And IMO LR’s best game was easily the one in chapel hill. The holes had no clue what was coming, and when they did, it was executed so well they couldn’t stop it.

      • Chris

        One more thing… since your argument was made with stats (which I give much credit to since I make my living with them), I have some starts of my own for my case. Only 3 Pirates rushed the ball. Of those Carden only rushed 6 times, but had a 4 ypc average.. next up Allen, rushed 10 times with a 7.2 ypc average, then Coop 25 times for a 7.9 ypc average. Which means that on average, we didn’t have to pass the ball once to drive down the field and score every drive. Now I know that’s just stats and we wouldn’t have maintained that average without passing, but my point is we were too successful running the ball to simply seek balance. Running the ball, imposing your will on the opponent, has a demoralizing effect on the opponent which I believe in this game would have put us in control early, and made me a much less nervous fan for 2.5 quarters. I’m not calling for Lincoln’s head, just want a game plan designed for opponents’ weaknesses, not just our strengths.

      • PirateJohn

        Sorry, Chris, but you’re not looking at the stats. Play by play shows we did try to run it in the 2nd and 3rd quarter and got nowhere. Only one run by a RB over ten yards. Meanwhile, Shane’s designed runs in the 3rd quarter gained over 50 yards. Clearly, the run wasn’t making progress until Shane started running it and going deep on their D. Check the play by play on ecupirates.com. Numbers don’t lie. (BTW, I was at the game too and remember a lot of those short runs. One stopped a drive on fourth down.)

      • Chris

        Yards per carry. I rest my case.

      • PirateJohn

        YPC is very distorted based on the long runs. You don’t run an offense based on a few plays – the D will focus on that part of the game like they did in the second and third quarters. We ran just as many times in those quarters as in the first quarter – calculate the YPC in those quarters. Thank goodness we have an OC that gets it.

      • Chris

        The ypc factors in those short runs you pointed out in your earlier cases as well as the long ones. The only game coop had a higher ypc was against uab in which we scored 63 points, and had like 8 players with carries. In that game Carden had a negative ypc number which wasn’t the case in Tampa. I am glad you are totally pleased with Riley’s game planning. I hope to feel the same way, but don’t yet. I mentioned I used stats for my work. Among other things we study equipment utilization of construction equipment on large industrial projects. When we see, for example, crane utilization at 90%+, that’s not a good thing. It means you don’t have enough cranes. I look at YPC the same way. When it’s high for both backs, it screams to me they were under utilized. You don’t have to agree, but I stand by that statistical inference. Only the fourth quarter made it close to acceptable. All this against a team we all knew were poor against the run but good against the pass. That made it a no brainer to me that we should have run the ball early and often, especially since Ohio didn’t stack 8 in the box to protect against it. They knew Riley would attempt to establish the brand, meaning spreading it out and throwing it all over the field. That strategy had them the lead going into the fourth quarter. Like I said earlier, I don’t want Riley’s head. I love the brand of offense he brings. But we must do a better job of attacking opponent weaknesses, even when it’s not aligned with the “brand”. I’ve beat this horse into the ground, so I’ll leave off now. Please don’t get upset that we disagree. I’m happy to call you a fellow pirate.

  2. Pirate Al

    Really enjoyed the article. Are you absolutely sure that Marquez Grayson played? That would totally shock me that we burned his redshirt in the bowl game. I was there and didn’t see him unless it was on special teams. Again I would be shocked if true

    • Cheers Al…hope your holidays are going great!

      I cannot say I am 100% positive on MG, but the bowl participation report lists him as having participated. Perhaps they mark him if he dressed but did not see action, but my understanding of the participation report is that it is just that: participation.

      Hopefully it is a misprint.

      Go Pirates!

  3. factoid

    Did you actually see him play? Per an inquiry to Tom McClellan, duplicate number thing who said he will get the participation list corrected. He said one player wore four different numbers over the course of the season. All players in the program attended the bowl game so lots of duplicate numbers there.

    • Hey factoid…thanks for dropping in!

      Good work there. I was just responding to Pirate Al when you commented. I hope that this is the case as it would make no sense for him to be played in the last game of the season.

      If there was an error on the participation report, then I feel much better. Thanks for checking in on it.

      Cheers.

  4. factoid

    Re the OL, those guys only played on place kicks for the most part. Boyd, Hinson, Lowery and Gentry are just names on the second line of our depth chart. Lowery was injured most of the season so very few snaps of any kind for him. Hinson and Gentry have been around long enough to have gotten some scrimmage snaps if they had the goods. My bet is on Lowery and Boyd from that list plus Larry Williams. That will leave an almost total lack of depth. Hudson gets pushed around quite a bit so not much confidence there in solving the guard problem with him. We need a center with lead in his pencil badly. Boyd or Matau maybe? Lowery is still under 300 pounds of very good athleticism but will he be big enough for the grind? Then there is huge Brandon Smith who will probably still be at least a year away. It is a very iffy inside three positions to me. Maybe a tackle moves inside to open up things for Williams. Sure wish Elsawi had had that luxury as he is a natural guard. Color me skeptical re the OL..

    • Let’s continue on the OL analysis some. Do you know at all how they plan to use Smith? Or how about Marquise Wallace? I had always thought that Tre Robertson would be a guard and perhaps Wallace is in position to take the RT job and push Robertson down into Simmons’ position.

      I am not saying that Gentry or Boyd is another Will Simmons, but Gentry has plenty of snaps in him, even if they have been all over the place and if he isn’t starter material, he is at least experienced depth.

      Boyd seems to be suited to getting some playing time.Hinson seems to be the one who has not evolved, but I know that the staff is really jacked up about Larry Williams and I was told by LR and Ruff that they were very close on working him in this year but that they felt that they could spare doing that because of the depth this season.

      Agree on Lowery…not sure he is built for the grind and if we have a need, it would be for a guy who can grind.

      We will definitely feel the loss of both Simmons and Davis, but I do believe we are in a much better position than we were a year ago in terms of OLs that might step up. Last spring, we had four starters back but the line was not necessarily stellar. Simmons and Davis were solid, but our tackles were a rising sophomore and a journeyman in ElSawi and center was a crap shoot.

      I think you are wise to go into the AAC skeptical about the OL and there is much work to be done, but I do think we have recruited and are better prepared to revamp that group than we have been in years. Fortunately, also, is that most of the AAC has not played our offense and perhaps the quick release and sure hands at the receiving spots can offset the early season learning curve the newbies on the OL will have to go through.

      Thanks for chiming in and for the update on MG participation status…that is a relief.

      Go Pirates Go!

      • factoid

        Don’t remember where but I was told or read that Wallace is a bust. Injury wise or other wise, no idea. Hope I am wrong buy you never hear coaches mention him. Seems that the JC OL ECU gets are frequently out of shape and never compete to make an impact.

      • That is disappointing factoid…hopefully he can work his way into a role that will allow for him to contribute.

        If JC can’t get him right, no one can.

        Thanks for the info and best regards!

  5. Brices Creek Pirate '74

    A very good summary and analysis for next year. It has been a long time, if ever, that we have had a very successful season with so much talent and experience coming back.

    • Welcome BCP…

      Good to hear from you. If we can sure up the OL and secondary, I think we compete in the first year of the AAC for a title. If UCF is the class of the league, I feel pretty good about our chances.

      Gonna miss some of the guys who are leaving, but love the group we have coming back.

      Cheers!

  6. Chuck Tignor

    Ron,

    I became a Pirate fan when Trent first came to ECU and I’ve enjoyed following your blog ever since. You always have a great analysis of the team. I’m looking forward to following the 2014 Pirates with Trent sitting with me in the stands. We’ve met so many wonderful friends in Greenville and I can’t wait to get back to see everyone. Go Pirates!

    • Thanks Chuck…

      Likewise…been a pleasure corresponding and watching Trent’s career unfold. I think he has the leg and smarts to have a good shot in the NFL if he chooses. Is he interested in pursuing?

      Keep me posted on that front.

      Cheers!

  7. DC Pirate 28

    Ron as always great work. I enjoyed the season, happy for the players and coaches. The highlights of course were the lopsided wins against UNC and State as well as finally bringing home a trophy with a bowl win.

    There are some points of discussion that I think need to be made. First I am happy to be moving out of CUSA into the AAC however I don’t see how this is a step up from when we first joined CUSA back in 1997. We played with Cincy, and USF in the past, Trade out Louisville for Temple and UConn and we are really back to where we were when we first joined CUSA. I don’t really see this as moving up just keeping up. Don’t get me wrong I think this will be a good league but the idea that most of these other schools beat us to the punch with an invite has always bothered me because I never thought they had the resume when it came to record, rears in seats, and accomplishments. I will tip my hat to Cincy here over the past decade but keep in mind we remain 12-5 against them and have a winning record against nearly every team in this league.

    Second many complain about the systems we run but we run them because we just don’t have the talent to line up and pound the other team into submission. Credit must be given to the coaches and players who put in the work that made themselves competitive in the first place. Lets face it on average we get a recruiting class that usually ranks in the bottom third yet finishes close to the top third when it comes to wins. A tribute to their hard work.

    Third I like to deal in results not opinions. We hear how 10 wins, a bowl victory, and wins against UNC & State will help our recruiting. The only trouble is I don’t see it. Kids just never choose us over an ACC program despite the record or history. UNC has not won an ACC championship since 1980 yet kids continue to line up 3 and 4 deep to go there and State is also doing a far better job than we are bringing in players. While I know the rankings can be skewed we remain in the 75-95 range and if anything is like it has been many of the kids we do sign will not qualify or flip to other programs thus making us weaker. I don’t claim to have the answers on this but what can be done to change it? Does anyone have thoughts as to why and what can be changed. IMHO I thought Ruffs strength would be to become an above average recruiter and an average coach. I think the opposite has happened. I think he is an average recruiter and is becoming an above average coach. People seem to take pride in the fact that we don’t get the 3 and 4 star talent but imagine if we could. Does recruiting become easier by the number of players that play at the next level rather than beating the local competition? Again I think this is a great topic going into the off season as talent is what wins games especially against the better teams.

    Anyhow a solid season with some big wins. Congrats to players and coaches.

    • Ahoy DCP…always love your inputs…and this one is full of topics to discuss.

      On the third point, I have very strong feelings about how to change the status quo, but sounds easier than it is to execute. I think we are up against indoctrination in our own state and massive branding outside of the state. Look, there is no denying that UNC controls this state in every power position possible (e.g., legislature, media. etc.) and their alum – as is finally coming out – will stop at nothing to get what they want. Not only do they have resources beyond compare, they also gobble up the lion’s share of the system budget. They get front spot in every line their is and this message goes out to all kids growing up in the state. When my nephews were born, they were wrapped in baby blue blankets and the doctor told my sister that they were “winners already in their Carolina blue.”

      The only way to battle this is to invest heavily in branding and reach out programs to kids. We have the marketing skills to do it, but it is costly and takes a long view. We need to make ECU cool and distinct.

      Get into the high schools, out and about and saturate where the kids go.

      On the recruiting trail, we have to hit hard and be up front about the fact that the UNC gravy train is going to dry up. We now see why UNC was able to lure kids in – particularly academic risks with high football skills. Additionally, we need to keep pushing our way onto TV via OOC games. Also, we need to find a way to leverage the breadth of our alumni base…creative ways to pull back in the former grads.

      I don’t have the answers, but in short, we need to create a buzz about ECU. In our state, with a ton of D1 schools and an unlevel playing field with UNC, we have to shape minds in the state. We have to be creative.

      For example, we do not get the benefit of high school championships played on our field, so how about a co-sponsored HS jamboree at ECU? How about the Pirates practice at some local schools sometimes? How about an ELITE camp where Ruff enlists some of the top high school coaches around and pulls in some coaches from colleges outside our recruiting base to hand invite top HS players to come to the Elite camp? How about more campaigns like the Paint it Black one throughout the year?

      Do we use the famous resources we have from our alumni base to woo players…what would it take to get Vince McMahon to be more active and more accessible, ala Oregon’s Phil Knight? Hey, why not have the team where WWE badges on their gear? Leverage what we have…I am sure that wrestling would resonate with some of the desired athletes out there.

      We have an art program that is elite…how cool would it be for prized recruits to come to the stadium and see a 30 foot picture of themselves in ECU black gear as if they were a Times Square Heisman Billboard? Or personalized items “just for them” because we want them “the most?” Why not ask Chris Johnson or Vonta Leach to be a visit host for that 5 star RB we want or a host at a game during a bye week for their NFL team ala John Elway who used to do as much for Stanford?

      Obviously, we have to stay within the laws – it’s not like we are UNC and can cheat in plain sight – but we should really look to target the kids we want – anywhere in the country – and go after them full on. Meanwhile, we need to raise ECU’s profile via unique and memorable branding in our own state.

      It is a tough gig, but we need to try, IMO.

      I think Ruff does connect well with kids, but needs more weapons in the arsenal to crack this state.

      Will try to respond to other points in this awesome post later.

      Cheers!

  8. Ed Keller

    Great entry…I always look forward to them. Any sense about incoming HS and JC recruits that might be ready to go from the start?

    • Hi Ed…

      Currently, I do not have any real feel for how the incoming class looks but will give some analysis and follow up in separate post.

      I would love to see some JUCOs that can contribute right away on the OL and in the secondary. We have had some nice luck with RBs as well. Need a punter too.

      Hope your holidays are going great!

  9. Jolly Roger

    Regarding the promoting of the ECU brand, I noticed Fedora conducted practices at high schools this season, it was a hit! Made all the local media outlets and parents took their kids to see it. Wonder if RM and Co could pull off a practice in Fayetteville, Raleigh or even Charlotte?? Heck, I would go!

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