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WASHINGTON, DC — Since its 45-38
overtime loss to Southern Methodist
Thanksgiving weekend, East Carolina has had a month to smooth some of
the chinks in its defensive armor.
Given the Pirates' performance
throughout much of the 2010 season, Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill
believes the month-long layoff provided a much needed reprieve for his
scrutinized defense. It offered defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell the
opportunity to refocus on fundamentals, as well as extra time to prepare
for a powerful Maryland offense.
“I thought the layoff was very good for
our defense,” McNeill said. “We had a chance to get our focus back and
get back into the basics again. We had time to work on East Carolina
first before diving into Maryland's packages and schemes. The kids have
worked hard and the coaches have, too.
layoff was probably a benefit for us. It gave us a chance to regroup,
and it gave us a longer time to look at Maryland.”
ECU certainly needed that time to gather
itself. After an impressive showing in
a 37-10 victory over Marshall,
the Pirates' defense experienced an all-out collapse, surrendering 42 or
more points in each of its five remaining games.
Navy and Rice provided exclamation
with 76- and
62-point efforts, respectively,
against the Pirates.
Maryland enters today's game averaging
31 points per contest against a very difficult schedule. Much of the
Terps' offensive success can be attributed to the passing battery of
quarterback Danny O'Brien and superstar receiver Torrey Smith.
Smith finished the season with 1,045
yards and is considered a major NFL prospect.
“We have to make sure we have an eye on
him,” McNeill said. “There are packages we have where we can put two
guys on him if we have to.
“He's such a great player. It's just
like someone trying to stop Dwayne Harris. It's hard to stop those guys.
We just have a to try to contain him.”
N.C. State certainly couldn't do that,
which cost the Wolfpack a spot in the ACC Championship game earlier this
month. In a 38-31 Terps win, Smith snagged 14 passes for 224 yards and
A duplicate effort could be lethal for
an ECU defense that has surrendered its share of big plays this year.
With good size and speed, Smith will certainly present some major
matchup problems to a Pirates defense that uses a lot of man coverage
While much of the attention will be paid
to the passing combo of O'Brien and Smith, the Pirates certainly can't
afford to ignore the Maryland ground attack. The Terps might not boast
overwhelming rushing statistics — they are averaging 124 yards per
outing — but they have very capable backs.
Terps coach Ralph Friedgen, who is
coaching his final game for his alma mater, has used a by-committee
approach at running back this year. Each of the Terps rushers tips the
scales at 205 pounds or better, and the Pirates have struggled this
season against big, physical backs.
Junior Davin Meggett, son of former NFL
standout Dave Meggett, has been the most effective of Maryland's ball
carriers this year. At 5'9”, he has a low center of gravity that can
present problems to a defense that has struggled with the basic
fundamentals of tackling.
Today offers one final opportunity for
ECU to demonstrate improvement on that and other areas that have plagued
the team's defense this year.