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Game No. 2: ECU 49, Memphis 27


Inside Game Day
Saturday, September 11, 2010

By Al Myatt

Defense expands comfort zone

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

GREENVILLE — After nearly four hours of suspense six days earlier, the excitement was comparatively short-lived as East Carolina improved to 2-0 in Conference USA with a 49-27 win over Memphis at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday.

The Pirates hadn't beaten Tulsa the previous Sunday so much as they had managed to outscore the Golden Hurricane. The giddiness of a 51-49 win so dramatically provided by a game-ending touchdown was tempered by the sobering consideration of ECU's general lack of defense in the season opener.

Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill, who had worked on the defensive side of the ball in a coaching career that spanned several decades, didn't panic. He cited injuries and inexperience as mitigating circumstances after Tulsa had piled up 579 yards of total offense. Ruff said the defensive unit would get some players back and that it would get better.

The defense delivered on Saturday, making like Pirates from the outset with three first quarter takeaways that were quickly translated into three touchdowns. ECU led 28-3 at the end of the first quarter. Memphis managed to generate a degree of respectability but never created any real doubt as to the final outcome.

Ruff saw what he wanted to see from his boys on defense.

"I saw our defense come up with three turnovers, which is big time," said the former Pirate defensive back. "We definitely improved from game one to game two and we'll work to keep improving."

The Tigers (0-2) contributed to their quick demise as a shotgun snap to quarterback Cannon Smith doinked off his helmet on Memphis' second snap of the game. ECU defensive lineman Josh Smith found the handle at the Tigers' 12-yard line and the Pirates capitalized three plays later on an 11-yard pass from Dominique Davis to Giavanni Ruffin for a 7-0 lead. The Tigers' QB appeared to overthrow his intended receiver on Memphis' ensuing possession and Derek Blacknall went 46 yards for a touchdown on the interception return.

The Pirates made the transition effectively with the possession change on the pick.

"I saw Marke (Powell) and Josh Smith out in front of me, blocking for me," Blacknall said. "When I seen them two guys I was like, 'Let's ride.' "

A fumble recovery by Matt Thompson at the Memphis 24 led to ECU's fourth touchdown of the first quarter.

The Pirates got some heavyweights back on the defensive front, which contributed to the early knockout. Linemen Antonio Allison, Michael Brooks and Derrell Johnson helped disrupt the Memphis offense after missing the Tulsa game with ailments. Linebacker Steve Spence also made a return. Memphis still managed 413 total yards but that was a 29 percent reduction from the Tulsa game and the bulk of the Tigers' offensive production came after the game had been decided.

Improved play up front helped free ECU linebacker Dustin Lineback to get in on 13 tackles, including three for losses.

"You've got to credit those big boys up front," Lineback said. "We had some guys come back and they stepped up. (Memphis) was so focused on our defensive linemen that they didn't even pick me up."

ECU defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell took his unit in the defensive meeting room following the Tulsa game and delivered something of an ultimatum.

"Coach Mitchell challenged us," Linebeck said. "He said 49 points is unacceptable. We had 30 MAs last week — missed assignments. He just gave us a challenge. We still gave up too many points. We're not happy with that, but we polished things off and got better."

The Pirates will play off campus for the first time when they travel to Virginia Tech for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday. The Hokies are 0-2 after absorbing a stunning 21-16 upset from James Madison on Saturday. The Hokies had a short week after a 33-30 loss to Boise State on Monday night.

Blacknall said it will be a more confident group on defense that makes the trip to Blacksburg.

"I feel like this week we took a huge step," said the junior safety. "There's always room for much improvement from week to week. .. On defense, you'd like to look up there (at the scoreboard) and see a nice, big goose egg but I feel like we made good improvement from last week to this week."

Davis had another superb day under the direction of offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley as he accounted for five touchdowns, three passing and two with his feet. Davis finished 27 of 38 through the air for 244 yards. McNeill noted with a degree of satisfaction that the offense was turnover free. Davis appreciated the defensive effort. There was no need for an encore to last week's 33-yard Hail Mary to Justin Jones.

"The defense played great," Davis said. "They improved a lot from last week to this week. If they play like that every week, we have a great chance to win every game."

Josh Smith wants to maintain a good working relationship with his teammates on the other side of the ball.

"We support the offense," Smith said. "The more times we get those guys the ball, the less we have to be on the field. I enjoy that."

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09/12/2010 06:00:31 AM


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