Revised Prediction on SMU: Some Style, Some Survival, but a Win is a Win

Where is the pressure? This defensive front 7 is to good to have only 9 sacks on the season.

Where is the pressure? This defensive front 7 is to good to have only 9 sacks on the season.

Last week, when I assessed the SMU game, I was focused on the need for ECU to win with style (read: blowout win showcasing complete dominance over an 0-4 and offensively-challenged competitor). The premise was that with the name-brand portion of the schedule behind us and a Top-25 ranking, the judgment of our Pirates will become more and more scrutinized. As a non-autonomous 5 team, the voters and playoff committee are not looking to see how good we are, but rather, on what basis they can exclude the Pirates from the rankings and from the major bowls. In other words, we should be prepared for hearing the term “bad win.”

On Saturday, out of context, it would appear that ECU had a “bad win.” A struggling SMU team, using its 4th string walk-on QB behind an offensive line with two-young players making their college debuts, comes into the 22nd ranked team’s house and rolls up almost 400 yards of offense and scores twice as many points on us as they have their entire schedule to-date. The Pirates, 44 point favorites, finish with a 21 point win (that was 11 points in the fourth quarter). This is fodder for a conversation that will point out that we have not beaten a quality opponent yet and struggled with one of the worst (at least statistically) teams in the nation.

However, this was my view BEFORE witnessing a college football weekend that could have been called “Survivor Week” in the Top 25. Eleven ranked teams took it on the chin this weekend, shaking up everyone’s notion of which are the best teams out there.

TODAY, I see Saturday’s victory in a completely different context.

Movin' on Up: Pirates win, they keep climbing.

Movin’ on Up: Pirates win, they keep climbing.

The Pirates did what 11 other ranked teams could NOT do this past weekend: Survivor.

Survival – if you want to call a 21-point win in a game where the Pirates never trailed surviving – was priority No. 1 for the weekend in to that point, ECU did so with room to spare. Priority No. 2, IMO, was to show the pundits that the offense continues to truck along without hesitation and with great confidence regardless of the competition or the scenario. Check on this one, as well.

A few “contextual” tidbits:

1. As bad as SMU has been this season and as beat up as their line was for the game on Saturday, it is worth noting that their 0-4 mark has come against one of the most brutal schedules in college football. Including the Pirates, SMU has tangled with four Top-25 teams so far, losing by huge margins to Baylor, Texas A&M, and TCU…all currently in the mix for playoff contention.

2. There is no way around the fact that ECU’s OOC schedule took a toll on our team, more emotionally, probably, then physically. We do not know if SMU was a let-down (the dreaded potential WTF game), but we do know that the kids probably needed the bye week to refuel emotionally, but tactically may not have been as sharp as they have been through the first 4 games.

3. I also suspect – could be very wrong here – that preparation while mainly focused on SMU, may have suffered as thoughts drifted toward a road game at USF, which no doubt would be seen as a greater candidate for the annual WTF game. And, clearly, it looked as if defensively, we did prepare for the other SMU QB…the transfer from Texas A&M who is a significantly better running threat.

4. Finally, after playing in the intense environments at USC, Virginia Tech and at home for UNC-CH…there had to be a bit of a letdown playing in a less amped up setting on Saturday.

Keep it rolling: Isaiah Jones and ECU O needs to keep on keeping on this week.

Keep it rolling: Isaiah Jones and ECU O needs to keep on keeping on this week.

Whatever the reason, we got less “style” points, defensively, but also survived to move to 4-1 and 1-0 in the AAC. More importantly, we were again rewarded in the AP poll moving up 4 spots. So, the path is clear…win and you move up. Win big, and you move up faster.

As for the game itself this past Saturday, there should be some concern about the defense. It seemed like we geared up to stop the run – and obviously did so effectively – but also appeared to play to protect the lead…giving them long drives and TOP rather than tightening up on their trips receivers and forcing the walk-on QB to have to think an extra second before unloading the ball. They were triple-teaming Terry Williams, so you have to think that just an additional second of holding the ball would have allowed us to really pound that QB. Instead, we gave him the quick passes and he carved us up AND ate up the clock in doing so. Otherwise, the way the offense was running, we were heading toward 50+ points if we could just have had a couple of more possessions.

Maybe it was by design. Get the win. Move on. No need for style points at all. But, it is concerning at least to me that an SMU offense that had been anemic to-date AND starting a walk-on QB AND with two newbie O linemen could put up almost 400 yards of offense and 24 points on our defense.

Now, in fairness to the D, it cannot go without being written here, that had the secondary come up with even 1 or 2 more INTs out of the dozen real opportunities that they created, the score may have been in line with expectations. For whatever reason, our kids couldn’t seem to hold on to the ball and if not that, couldn’t get out of the way for their teammates to come up with the ball.

The question, I guess, now is this: Was this SMU game the potential WTF game and our kids  just trumped it? Or, does the annual kick in the gut come elsewhere? In South Florida? At Temple? At Tulsa? Remains to be seen, though I do feel like there is a special quality to these kids. Hopefully, the D is irritated by this game and ready to prove that they are not a middle-of-the-road D. With the speed and athleticism on this unit, I am guessing that they will be bringing it down in South Florida this week. The South Florida offense is not good. They are pretty bad (95th rushing, 117th passing, 113th scoring) but the guess is that they are more comfortable trying to run the football, though, given SMU’s success I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach Willie Taggart isn’t installing a ton of passing packages this week.

If they go the pass first route, then our D will have the chance at redemption – or will set us up for a tougher game than it should be. If they try to run at us, it should set up nicely for the D to do what it does best – stuff the run. Let’s hope for the latter.

The rest comes down to ECU’s ability to play as the favorite. This is the first test on the road as a ranked team against a team who will treat this like its proverbial Super Bowl (I know…hate the term too), playing with nothing to lose. Our team will have to be able to carry that 19th ranking into a hostile area, take the opponents best shot, and be able to come out as if it was a business trip, nothing more and nothing less if we hope to keep on schedule and build on the media love for the team.

Expect trick plays, fourth down attempts, and plenty of defensive gambling on the Bulls part. The O will need to be sharp and not fall into lulls (ala Virginia Tech) in order to come out with a solid win. The Bulls play better pass defense then run defense so the matchup is better for them, but overall, the ECU O should be able to do what it does this defense. The formula, IMO, is the typical ECU MO: Score fast and early. If the Pirates get up – as they have in several games – by two scores early, it will very hard for USF to win. But, if we let USF match us or gaff our way into a trailing position early, it can give rise to an upset minded set of good athletes…and no one wants that.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Revised Prediction on SMU: Some Style, Some Survival, but a Win is a Win

  1. A very mediocre NCSU team won 49-17 at USF. I believe ECU is much better this season than the Wolfpack. The Pirates open up as two-touchdown favorites over the Bulls. I think ECU will cover this time. Go Pirates!

  2. Chris

    Spot on as usual. My question is regarding adjustments. Is it me or is this staff slow to adjust to opponents? I understand game planning for the run, but does that mean we are sick with that strategy all game? We put WAY more pressure on Brewer than we did Saturday. I was expecting dominance at the line of scrimmage but it wasn’t there. Going down this weekend to hopefully watch them return to form on all sides of the ball.

  3. Blackbeard's Ghost

    Short and sweet..win and move on. USF presents the same type of opponent as SMU. Struggling to get a win but plenty capable of giving us a dogfight.
    Will be interesting to see how we respond as a team come this Saturday night.
    Maybe our guys can remember what Mr. Lee (defensive player) from USF stated before the SMU game..”Shane is nothing special”.

    If you want a Pirate team to fire up…talk some yang about their Captain.
    Great stuff RC!

    Go Pirates!!!

    • As always…love your take on things BBG!

      That took giant ones to spout that bulletin board material. Surely the type of comment to piss off not just the Cap’n but the big uglies up front and the studs with the mitts.

      Win and move on…love it!

      Cheers BBG

  4. Ed Keller

    I know we are a passing team but our run game has been solid this year. So, if USF manages to have some success stopping the pass (as you suggest), we should be able to beat them with our stable of running backs and solid O-line play, right? All that said, we’re still likely to put up at least 350 yards passing. It would seem it’s a win for the taking.

    • I agree Ed. The SMU game was not ever out of control for ECU. I just hope playing down there, our O doesn’t fall asleep for a quarter or so.

      We need another solid win…that’s all I want.

      Would like to see the run game shine this weekend.

      5-1 and 2-0 would look awfully nice.

      Go Pirates!

  5. Nice read again Ron,

    I think its fair to say the talent level has never been deeper or wider than it is in today’s college game where if you don’t bring it you can get beat, yet we have a rush to place 5 conferences as elites and the rest need not apply seems really strange at this point.

    I was not pleased with what I saw last weekend. Our defense in the past has fallen into the trap that they know we have an offense that can score and its their job to make sure the other team does not score as much as ours. The thought of them winning the game on their side of the ball never seems to exist with the exception of what I saw at Virginia Tech. Our special teams seem to play the same way, just don’t loose, no need to make plays. This style of ball will eventually get you beat. While our offense is outstanding you cant expect them to be perfect with zero penalties or turnovers. Late in the 3rd quarter we were 1 play away from being in a game where one did not exist because of the oh hmmm approach.

    While I think we are a good team its seems some forgot what it took to get in that position. As the season goes on teams change, some get better and others begin to fall apart. While I’m really happy with the start maybe those teams we beat were not as good as we thought and their records are showing it.

    People want to circle dates as to the games we could possibly get beat and the answer to that is any game where we don’t execute at 100%. USF has given solid performances against Maryland and Wisconsin but struggles to score. We however have had a history of allowing teams to score just so long as we do ourselves. All I know is they are a Florida school who should have some talented kids on their roster with an extra week to prepare.

    I know our kids love the hype and the media attention that comes with being a ranked team. The must also understand that it all goes away with a loss of any kind.

    While everyone wants to point out where we could stub our toe people forget about UCF. They have 9 of the starting 11 returning on defense not to mention their WR’s and strong runner. The only thing this team was missing a QB with game experience. If we can get to that game he will have a complete season under his belt and they will give us all we want. Lets hope we make it that far.

    Cheers

    • As always DCP, some excellent analysis and some good wisdom shared.

      Agree whole-heartedly, that the ECU program has never and will never be in a position to overlook any opponent.

      USF will, indeed, have some great athletes and they will play to win.

      And, you point about UCF is a very good one…would be wise for us not to forget the defending league champions.

      All the best. Go Pirates!

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