24 Hours Later: UNC-CH Outcome Hinges Mostly on Pirates’ State of Mind

Rising above: Cam Worthy dominated the air against the Hokies.

Rising above: Cam Worthy dominated the air against the Hokies.

Like most of you, I was cautiously optimistic about the USC game, having laid out my concerns in a previous post (where I predicted a close loss to the Gamecocks) about the South Carolina offensive line and the difficulty of playing at Williams-Brice Stadium following an opener that really told us nothing about our team. Those concerns were intensified after USC was pummeled by Texas A&M, ensuring that the Gamecocks would be uber focused on ECU rather than fighting the urge to look ahead to SEC East foe Georgia (which, fortunately, USC took care of, helping our SOS out a great deal). That added factor made it crucial that we played a near mistake-free game in order to win it. And, as Steve Logan said in his breakdown of the Virginia Tech game, by settling for FGs against USC, we left 4 points on the table each time…hence, we left the win on the table.

And, we were not mistake free either (see the blocked FG), resulting in a closer-than-the-score indicated 33-23 road loss.

In the week running up to the Virginia Tech game, I felt like we were going to see the typical Game 1 to Game 2 improvements from our team between Game 2 and Game 3. And, it played out that way. In fact, I almost nailed it in my forecast back in August when I wrote (scroll down in this previous post):

In the OOC slate (not counting NCCU), this is the one I think presents the best match up for the Pirates. I am thinking the Pirates take a closer than the score win in this one, something like 35-21.

To pat myself on the back, we was ripped off on the phantom holding call (one of litany of suspect calls IMO) on Cam Worthy on that TD run against VPI and had the zebras not cost us that…cha-ching, I would have nailed it completely. Meh…the point is, our team learned a ton from the USC game and it showed up in the visit to Blacksburg this past weekend.

For example, we learned against the Gamecocks that our offensive line was pretty damn talented and very athletic. Specifically, when a guy like Tre Robertson is a reserve…you got a very good line. The two JUCOs have delivered on a level we have not seen a JUCO OL deliver on in my limited 30 years as a fan. We learned that our receivers are THAT good.  We learned that our backs are good not only pass pro, but also running the football (no matter what the play mix is). We learned that our secondary is very athletic and could be a strong group by end of year. We learned that our defense is fast. We learned that we have another big-legged punter that so far, has delivered the right kick for the right situation each time out.

We also learned that our front seven is a bit thin and that no matter how well conditioned we are, we need to ensure that we have games in hand by the time the fourth period comes around. Thank goodness we got Terry Williams back. Not just because he is so good – as he demonstrated against the Hokies – but because we need the bodies. Can you imagine this defensive front if Terrell Stanley could have been a go this season? Holy cow! Further, we learned that our offense still needs to be more consistent. We cannot, given the depth issues on defense, afford to have long periods of time without a sustained drive (even if it does not result in points). We also learned that our field goal situation is not a good one. We really need to sure this up soon.

Crickets: To silence the Terror Dome is something Zeek and the Pirates can be proud of.

Crickets: To silence the Terror Dome is something Zeek and the Pirates can be proud of.

The lessons learned from the USC game were on full display on Saturday in the convincing win over No. 17 Virgina Tech at the Terror Dome (are we allowed to still call it that?). Equally as important as the victory, to me, was the Pirates dominance at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. If ECU does this each week, we will have that dream season everyone hopes this year will be. While Shane Carden did get sacked a few times, they all appeared to be coverage sacks, not because he was running for his life. Defensively, once again, the front seven stifled the Tech offensive line, limiting them to less than 100 yards on the ground and while they did yield 389 yards of offense, most of it came in the second half with our offense playing conservative and the defense forcing Virginia Tech to drive for points.

What showed up defensively, also, was our team speed and aggressiveness not only in stopping the run but also in pass defense (a little too much so on the routes that our corners jumped in the red zone resulting in VPI TDs). And…the kids tackled well. The ingredients are there for a very good defensive unit.

Perhaps the biggest positive in this game against VPI was that with the game tied, Lincoln Riley was able to move the offense back from neutral to full-speed ahead when it was needed. Whether or not the 3rd and 4th quarter were indicative of a purposeful conservative offense or more a result of Virginia Tech balancing its offense out to grind out for TDs (keeping our O on the sideline more), what was clear was that the O came out and operated efficiently and effectively in the same manner as it had in the 1st quarter. It was a clinic, care of Carden and crew, who executed the game plan perfectly early on and then at the end.

It was great to see Cam Worthy step up huge. In my preseason sit down with Riley, he told me that Cam had worked his ass off and transformed himself from a good, raw-skilled athlete to an excellent receiver and that he was looking forward to the impact that Worthy would make this year. Well, given the stage, Worthy stole the show and I was very excited for him but even moreso for the offense. Now teams are starting to understand that they can’t throw all of their effort into stopping the Freak and stop the O…doesn’t work that way at ECU. Hardy, while quiet on the stat sheet this weekend, flipped the script on VPI and went ahead and tied up Kendall Fuller all day while Carden and Worthy, Isaiah Jones, Trevon Brown, and Bryce Williams feasted on that secondary. And, by the by, let’s not forget that Hardy not only had 4 grabs for 47 yards, he drew two key pass interference calls (probably should have drawn another 3-4 if the officials weren’t so bad) to aid the effort.

Looking now towards the North Carolina visit this weekend, the win in  Blacksburg should be a cautionary tale to our players. Success is a fragile friend and now, with two emotional, big games in the rear view, our coaches and kids need to be fully focused, fully prepared, and somehow summon the energy required to face a team playing their Super Bowl this weekend in Dowdy Ficklen. Love saying that and now can reference our frienemy (pardon the use of this portmanteau or linguistic blend here) Carlton Tudor’s use of the same phrase here (read in 4th graph).

The Tar Heels have shown that they have a mobile QB who runs a balanced (at least statistically) offense and have an opportunistic defense (causing turnovers at an alarming rate so far this season). They have had two weeks to prepare for a game that is as important as any to their program and fanbase. They will bring their A game to Greenville. Our kids can ill-afford to believe anything in the press about them and I am really glad that UNC-CH is a ranked opponent because it allows our coaches to again leverage the chip.

This game is going to be a close one, IMO, because of the hype, the emotions, and the fact that our team is running on fumes after the last two games. Still, the positives going in are that DFS is sold the slam out which should provide much needed boost. Other positives are that our senior leaders appear totally focused. It is the younger guys who will have to find it somewhere inside them if we are to pull off a never-before-accomplished back-to-back win over the Tar Heels.

Best scenario for ECU: The O gets out front quickly on UNC-CH (like it did against Tech and last year against the Tar Heels) and score TDs rather than FGs. This way, our defense will be facing a pass first UNC O and our team speed will be a complete asset for us as we pin back and try to get Williams rattled and our DBs can give effort in short, effective bursts. Special teams respect their extremely talented return game.

Worst scenario for ECU: UNC-CH gets up early and begins to try to grind it out. While we do have better depth with Williams back at nose tackle, we have shown a tendency to fade some down the stretch so far this season. Our O goes dormant for stretches and fails to execute in the red zone and our special teams inexplicably kick to their all-America returner.

Our team is good enough to win this game straight up. If we execute we win…that simple. But, this game will not be an easy one. In my preseason breakdown, I predict a 1-point ECU win. I will be thrilled to walk out of that stadium with that in hand. Anything else will be gravy.

This one, IMO, comes down to individual preparedness. Ruff will have the scheme and the team well informed of what to expect and how to play it. This one is on the players – individually and collectively. If they each man up and play to their capabilities and game plan, we will fare well. If too many of them have a post VPI hangover…we will not be a happy group come this Sunday.

Let me here it friends!

 

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “24 Hours Later: UNC-CH Outcome Hinges Mostly on Pirates’ State of Mind

  1. capt.hook

    I just do not see us coming out flat or not ready to play against the heels. Our coaches and players are too good for that to happen on our turf in front of 50K. And, San Diego St put up 500 yds of offense on them and had 5 or 6 TO’s.

    • Thanks for stopping in capt hook!

      I suspect you are right about readiness but I wanted to clang the bell anyhow! Any chance to remind just one of them helps IMO.

      So far this season has shown us all that the pundits know little about how good or bad any team is so I am erring on the side of caution when it comes to Liberty and SDSU.

      Cheers!

  2. JollyRoger

    unc has not shown a lot of pass defense, so a week off and looking at last year’s film can’t change that. I love the 2014 edition of ECU Pirate football. I think we step up and win a hard fought game 34-24

    • Ahoy JR…always great to hear from you.

      If their pass D is as weak as it appears…then we should get out ahead of them quickly. I’m that scenario I agree on a big W.

      I will be on town from
      Philly and am so excited I am counting the days!

  3. Ed Keller

    Ron, you have absolutely nailed the season thus far so, as pundits go, you have been spot on. So, i respect your thoughts on this (though I hope your concerns are overstated because of our history with UNC). I think we are better than UNC though I’m still worried about our secondary. I know they’ve played well but…VT had a bunch of dropped passes last week. If they make those catches, diferent ballgame. Also, we sort of “shock and awed” them last year. They should be ready for that this go around. Do you think LR can adjust things sufficiently enough to get out to a quick start again this year?

    • Hi Ed…

      I think that our secondary is more athletic than it has been in awhile across the four positions. I also think that Coach Smith is challenging them a great deal. Last weekend we did see dropped balls but also saw so decent cover too. The latter I believe caused by the front 7.

      Outside of USC the OLs we face this season are rebuilds which favors our D. This should help our secondary evolve.

      Riley showed me a new level if planning last week but I think the jury is still out on in game adjustments. I hope we don’t hVe to adjust much this weekend.

      Will you be at the game Ed? I am heading down from Philly area and would live to stop by and toast the Pirates. LMK

  4. factoid

    I am usually cautious but not this week. I expect to hand out a pretty good beat down. One team is focused and has maturity. The other one has played marshmallow teams when compared to ECU. Hit them in the mouth early and they will fold IMO. Subconsciously, I expect they expect a beating. Post on BYB says lots of tickets in the visitor section on stub hub. Either those are the ones they sent back or ECU lied when it announced a sell out and is trying to move them. Sadly, the latter would not surprise me re how this admin operates based on some other fast and loose stuff they have done.

    • Hi Factoid…

      I am starting to feel better already about this weekend. However, I will remain cautious. I also worry about the officiating. I was appalled by what we saw in Blacksburg…it was outright bad and at times felt intentional. I can see that happening here…hell, if the UNC ilk can make the biggest cheating scandal in the history of college football go away, it wouldn’t take much to put the fix in with a group of refs.

      I do agree that if we get out on the fast, it could be a big win. But, i will take any win.

      Maybe this time, UNC’s inflated props (ranked, really?) will work to our advantage and we tag back-to-back ranked teams.

      On the sellout…i had heard that UNC sold its full allotment, so that is disturbing to hear that there area significant number of tix available on stubhub. Either way, me and my crew are going to fill our 15 seats.

      Go Pirates, Go!

  5. Ron nice read from you as well as the other posters. I remember being at a golf tournament at Newport RI last year when we had our way with UNC. I had a chance to take in the Boston College Florida State game that same day. In the box that day was the new BC AD who was surprised how bad we beat UNC. He spoke highly about our AD who he worked with in the past and asked me was this our cycle season? Coming from a MAC program I knew what he meant in that was this one of those years where the planets align themselves and we as one of the so called non power programs could hang with the big boys. My answer was of course yes that we had enough weapons to beat anyone it was just a question of stopping the other team.

    This year IMHO is our true cycle season where we have a SR leader at QB and a record breaking WR. If not this year then when? I commented that we needed to work the middle of the field more and overcome the phantom calls that usually occur when we play the big boys. Those things seemed to happen at SC. The VT game might have been the worst officiated game I have seen in recent memory. All I can say is can you imagine how bad it could have been without replay. When you have 14 calls for 120 yards you could see our guys become afraid to even play.

    My concerns were like the rest, cash in your chances and execute when you can put points on the board. We created a game with the help of the officials where one did not exist. We should have been up by 5 or even 6 scores and yet it came down to the end when you expect a SR lead team to beat a younger program. I was happy we answered the bell.

    Where I see us having problems is that we race out to these leads thrown the ball on first, run on 2nd, then cant convert the third and long taking zero time off of the clock and putting our D back on the field where they have spent way too much time. Painful to watch SC take all of the time off of the clock in the 4th and a VT team move the ball because our boys were on the field so much in the 2nd half.

    I think its going to be tough to beat a rested UNC squad who had an extra week to prepare from last years beat down while we are coming into a 3rd week against a so called P5 program. I think we need to trust our running game with our stable of high quality backs and try to establish a consistent running game to keep our D rested so they can compete for four quarters.

    With a SR lead squad its time for our guys to show that leadership and compete for 4 quarters. This is the stage we wanted to be on so now its time to show those in the state and around the country what this program is all about. At this point its all there for the taking accept the challenge and make it happen.

    On a personal note I will be making the journey from our Nations Capital to the Emerald city to be a part of what I hope will be a huge win for our Pirates. Cant wait to see 50,000 strong inside DFS.

    Cheers

    • Ahoy DCP28…

      I couldn’t agree more with your analysis. I would add that defensively, this is a game where we will see how good (or not) Overton and Falls are because I think UNC is going to try to test the edge hard against us AND Williams will look to abuse us with his legs when we fail to contain.

      I think that our offense will score but like you, i worry about those periods of 3 and outs that we seem to always have at some point in a game.

      As I posted, the D is good, but thin and we have shown that against deeper teams, we look run ragged on defense by end of 3Q. I do not think this is a conditioning issue but rather, our kids are getting high amount of reps because of those 3 and outs.

      Hopefully, the talent level at UNC is not up to the level it is at USC and VPI.

      I WILL also be down at the game. Let me know if you know where you will tailgate..perhaps we could have a toast.

      Go Pirates, Go!

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