To quote one of our friends here at this blog (DCPirate28), Basically I think this is what we have wanted as a program for all of these many years, a chance to show that we belong despite the fact the deck has been stacked against us for as long as I have followed this team. I don’t want to blow this out of proportion but I think with the current climate in College Football I think this might be the most important month we have seen.
This is the beginning of a schedule of games, at a time when we most needed it, that will either validate who we all think we are as a program (which includes the fans) or inform us of what we need to do to be relevant going forward in a football world that seeks to exclude as many teams as possible.
If you every had a moment where you weren’t sure that you love senior wide receiver, read the recent SI feature on Lincoln Riley and his cast of walk-ons (here). As a former journalist, I love a good end quote and the writer got a hell of a great one out our star player:
“That’s the beauty of it. We’re the team that got what everybody didn’t want. So we go against teams that didn’t want us and beat them.” — Justin Hardy from SI feature story.
OMG…if you went to East Carolina and don’t at least appreciate Hardy, you better check yourself. Don’t bother staring at yourself in the mirror, because in a way, Hardy is that mirror. Every time you watch him, you are seeing yourself in a way. You are a product of a school that has succeeded despite so many forces trying to keep it down; hence, your successes as an alum, a reflected in this young man’s successes and the work it took to swim up the stream against heavy currents.
Saturday night will be a challenge, but if you are not jacked for it (and the slate of games behind it), then you may want to reconsider the ECU fire burning within…add a coal or two and channel the vibes onto the field at WB Stadium.
This is the first season in a long time where I am DVR’ing games left and right because I want to be aware in detail of what the teams on our slate are doing. I watched the Temple game, the UConn game, the SMU game, and of course the USC-TAM game. This week, you better believe I will watch the Virginia Tech game, too. This schedule is a beauty and as DCP said, this September may be the most important month in Pirate history (past/present/future).
The script is not ideal What would have been best, IMO, is if USC had beaten Texas A&M and preserved its home win-streak. Of course, that would be preferred for SOS, but also because had USC won, they would clearly be focused on Georgia without a wink of thought about the Pirates.
While the USC fans across the message boards seem to think that the Gamecocks will route ECU and ARE thinking about Georgia already, we can all be fairly confident that the USC players and the OBC are indeed squarely focused on ECU. They desperately need a win…period. Forget the SEC East at the moment. An 0-2 USC team would be DOA for any of the big bowls and the playoff regardless of a win against Georgia. So, this is the biggest game on their slate.
So, yes, they will be loaded for bear for us and bringing everything they got…their A game for sure. The big questions are: 1) is their defensive A game good enough; 2) will our players be able to handle the WB experience; 3) can our defense play mano-a-mano with USC?
Let’s look closer at those questions.
The scary thing for the Gamecocks defensively was that they didn’t look out-athleted or out-skilled against Texas A&M…but they did look absolutely lost for a good portion of the game. The players looked like they didn’t understand their jobs. This contributed to overall poor tackling which then contributed to A&M being able to pretty much do whatever they wanted. Let’s not forget, this was a 10-7 game at the end of the first quarter.
This whole “Kenny Hill” is a god’s gift to the QB position is complete BUNK. He did look good and confident, but please…that was his first start. He may prove to be the best, but let’s not get carried away with what the USC fanbase and the media is using to describe why the unthinkable happened last Thursday night. No, what happened was a good A&M offense facing an ill-prepared defense…that is what happened. South Carolina has young, talented guys on defense. Certainly they are not Clowney and Quarles, but they are talents nonetheless. The issue is that USC knew it started the season with two spread attacks capable of scoring points and had to do something to prepare for it. The 3-4 has proven to help against it so they installed it as part of their packages. They also played quite a bit of even fronts as well. They looked like young guys who were thinking rather than reacting.
So, what does that mean for ECU. First, I am biased but not hitting the kool-aid when I say that Shane Carden is a better QB (today at least) then Hill is. More reps, more times through the mill, and will make his usual great decisions. I will let the message board experts go at the debate as to whether or not our receivers are as good as A&M’s but I will say, as a collection – led by Hardy – I wouldn’t trade them for any. The question really is this: Can our offensive line perform on par with Texas A&M’s? That could be the difference here. But, I submit that our OL doesn’t need to be as good…it just needs to execute. Create passing windows and give the Captain his 3 seconds on each snap. USC has 9 days to essentially learn their job assignments on D. Tough gig, but expect they will be better. But it is hard to imagine that they will 180 degrees better, so the Pirates O should be able to exploit. If they do stick with their coverages, our offense will score a ton of points.
Which brings us to No. 2…
To me, the biggest factor here is the potential “wow” factor. As much as USC bought the media hype, I wonder if our guys did as well. We have a seasoned senior pair in Carden and Hardy who will be cool under pressure. The question is the other guys. Like it or not, not a whole lot of these guys have been in a game like this. Yes, some were there last time against USC, but this game will have the feel of what it is: A nationally televised SEC game with EVERYTHING on the line for the Gamecocks. Lose and they are done in 2014-15.
Our kids need to be angry. To go in not hoping to do well, but knowing they will do well and to prove something to the Gamecock PLAYERS. Each of our boys need to whip the guy in front of them on every play. Take it personal. Demand respect from players who don’t respect them. The Pirates cannot play tight…they must leave that for the home team. Play like there is nothing to lose, because for ECU, there isn’t. But there is so much to win for our guys. With veterans in key positions, the atmosphere should not be overwhelming – but this will be a test for the Capn and Hardy because they will have to keep the youngsters at bay. I agree with former coach Steve Logan’s assessment on ECU’s familiarity with South Carolina and its mitigation of the “awe” factor in Columbia. (Listen to the LoganZone starting at 13:40 mark)
Finally, what will our Defense do in Columbia. South Carolina – though they may not have shown it a lot on Thursday – has a very good and strong offensive line and our defensive front is thin right now. It is a pretty safe bet that the OBC’s game plan will be a heavy dose of ground and pound hoping to wear the D out. This is where our LB corps will have to earn its reputation. Speed and gap discipline will need to be on display. Zeek and Brandon and the others inside will have an opportunity to pile up the stats but those tackles need to be at the LOS not 5 yards down field. Montese and Maurice and the other OLBs are going to need to contain and get up field post-haste. And we have to be sure in the tackling department.
They will no doubt try to keep the Pirates O on the bench so our D must win in the 3rd down conversion column and not allow the Gamecocks long drives. This is going to be a major “welcome to the real season” moment for the defense – many of whom are just starting to get reps in on the regular. I think the two-deep at ECU will need to deliver so that we can keep fresh legs out there that are also effective.
Defensively, some areas we need to watch will be the Dylan Thompson looking at his big tight ends and testing the safeties down the middle of the field. As confused as USC’s defense was last week, we can ill-afford to be confused in our secondary this week. They are a capable offensive team so the D will have to make a big difference in this game. Turnovers will be a premium, too.
Alas, we should not forget about special teams. Our special teams appear pretty solid, but the place kicking does appear to be suspect. The one attempt vs NCCU, while good, should never have been the adventure it was. Don’t want this one coming down to a kick.
At the end of the day (or night in this case), there shouldn’t be a Pirate fan at this game or tuning in who should be in awe of South Carolina. They are a very good team, will play very good, but we have a pretty good club too. If ECU top players are as good as we think they are, then ECU will be fine in this game. Great players make good players better. And as angry as the Gamecocks will play, the Pirates should bring an equal amount of chip and grit.
This month, starting with USC, is everything we all have been waiting for…so enjoy it.
Go Pirates, Go…