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View from the East
Friday, May 4, 2012

By Al Myatt

Al Myatt

Casting a wary eye on 2012 opponents

A Look at the Foes: Part II of IV



Part III: Mem, UAB, Navy

Part IV: UH, Tulane, Mar

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

View the Mobile Alpha version of this page.


Casting a wary eye on 2012 opponents: Part II
Lincoln Riley on the State of the Offense
Victories Come in Multiple Flavors
Photo Gallery: ECBL at Clark-LeClair
Cotton mows down 12 in series finale
Green Wave sinks Pirates again
Tulane topples miscue-prone Pirates
Casting a wary eye on 2012 opponents: Part I
Heels prevail on 10th-inning single
Pirates' long pursuit of Ashley pays off
A salute to those who stay the course
Rainy day with the radio
Pirates fend off 7th-ranked Rice

We continue to examine the state of football programs which East Carolina will match up with during the 2012 season. Last week, we looked at the first three opponents — Appalachian State, South Carolina and Southern Miss.

The next three games next season put the Pirates at North Carolina on Sept. 22, at home against Texas-El Paso on Sept. 29 and at Central Florida on Thursday, Oct. 4, for a televised contest.

If the Pirate Nation were to be surveyed, the pending clash in Chapel Hill would probably get the highest priority in terms of fan interest. ECU's growth academically and athletically has seemingly been challenged at every point by the UNC-Chapel Hill interests in the state university system power structure. That translates into a deep-rooted rivalry from the Pirates' standpoint.

The Tar Heels are coming off a sordid chapter in their football history. Improper benefits to players and academic fraud resulted in NCAA penalties that will reduce scholarships and keep the Heels home during bowl season in 2012.

North Carolina dismissed Butch Davis as coach and after a mediocre season under caretaker Everett Withers, new athletic director Bubba Cunningham plucked Larry Fedora from Southern Miss as the football hire.

ECU will play Fedora's old and new programs in successive weeks.

ECU at North Carolina, Sept. 22

Coaching transitions such as the one in Chapel Hill inevitably steepen the learning curve in spring workouts. The coaches have to learn and evaluate personnel while teaching new schemes. The potentially-cumbersome process wasn't designed to proceed slowly in Chapel Hill.

Fedora sought to literally fast forward the Heels in spring practice, demanding a quicker pace to workouts. Apart from the obvious factor of getting more done within a defined time frame which limits spring workouts to 15 sessions, Fedora's offense is based on creating a tempo that wears defenses down.

Not only is the offense designed to be fast, the Heels desire to be diverse. They'll spread it out and throw it around but they also plan to be able to line up with a power running game.

The speed emphasis probably had a beneficial side effect in terms of snapping returning players out of a funk that had manifested itself in apparent indifference during a 41-24 Independence Bowl loss to Missouri.

Like most good offensive coordinators, Blake Anderson's goal is to keep defenses off balance.

Returning quarterback Bryn Renner said it took some time for players to grasp the speed with which Fedora wanted to operate but when they did the Heels reeled off 170 snaps in one scrimmage.

Fedora expressed concerns about depth across the board after spring workouts. At least there were no transfers out of the program after the new staff arrived, a sign of commitment by the players despite the postseason ban.

North Carolina defeated the host Pirates 35-20 last season. ECU contributed to its own demise with mistakes that helped the Tar Heels build a 28-3 halftime lead. The Pirates finished with a 490-456 lead in total yardage but four turnovers to none for the Tar Heels proved decisive. ECU drew six penalties while the Heels were flagged once.

North Carolina was playing well at the time of its trip to Greenville. It marked the fourth win in a 5-1 start. A 30-24 loss at home to Miami two weeks later started a slide that resulted in losses in five of the last seven games.

The 2012 season could produce a contrasting pattern since it may take the Heels some time to come together under the new boss.

North Carolina will represent the third consecutive road game for ECU, a scenario that produced a 38-35 win for the Pirates at Navy last season and a 44-43 victory at Southern Miss in 2010.

Texas-El Paso at ECU, Sept. 29

Miners coach Mike Price remembered his first trip to Greenville at the Conference USA media kickoff last summer in Memphis.

"We had trouble finding it," he said. "Then we were sorry we did."

ECU won that encounter 53-21 and topped Tulsa 27-24 the following week for its first C-USA championship.

UTEP hosted the Pirates in Game 10 last season and took a 22-17 win on Joe Banyard's 77-yard run midway through the fourth quarter. ECU had come back from a 16-7 deficit at the half to take a 17-16 lead before Banyard sprinted into the second level of the Pirates' defense and outran pursuit. The Miners totaled 241 yards rushing as Banyard's big play helped him to 140 yards on 18 carries for the night.

Banyard, who ran for 832 yards last season, has graduated but Nathan Jeffery gave indications in the UTEP spring game of being a heavy duty back as he gained 122 yards on 18 rushes. That's even more impressive considering that Jeffery was running behind an offensive line that had four starters out. The Miners also showed signs of offensive diversity as 12 different receivers caught passes.

Returning quarterback Nick Lamaison passed for 1,718 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior.

One challenge that may confront the Pirates is avoiding a post-North Carolina letdown. The week after the game with the Heels last season, ECU was torched 56-3 by Case Keenum and Houston.

The schedule will surely be a factor for UTEP. The Miners open at home against Oklahoma and visit Ole Miss the second week. UTEP travels to Wisconsin the week before Price makes his second trip to Greenville. The physicality of the Badgers could work to the Pirates' advantage.

ECU at Central Florida, Oct. 4 (Thursday night)

Handling a short week will be a crucial factor for both programs in this made-for-TV matchup. The Knights host Missouri the Saturday before opening their last Conference USA campaign against the Pirates. UCF has a date at Ohio State the second week of the season.

Blake Bortles completed 27 of 45 passes in the spring game for 239 yards and a touchdown. Coach George O'Leary has said that the 2012 edition reminds him of the 2010 C-USA champions, who got their school record 11th win in the Liberty Bowl.

There is motivation within the program to atone for a 5-7 season in 2011. The Knights were 3-5 in league play.

A 38-31 loss in Greenville on ECU's Senior Night accounted for one of UCF's setbacks last season. The game was decided on a 56-yard touchdown run by Torrance Hunt of the Pirates with 2:10 left to play.

Bortles will give the Knights a valuable degree of experience at quarterback going forward. He completed 75 of 110 passes last season for 958 yards with six scores and three picks. He lacks the running ability of Jeff Godfrey, who got the majority of snaps last season. The pair virtually split the playing time at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium last Nov. 19.

Bortles was intercepted by ECU's Damon Magazu in the end zone with 1:04 left to preserve the lead generated by Hunt's lengthy scamper.

Location has had little impact on the Pirates' domination in the series. The Pirates are 6-1 in Greenville against the Knights and 3-1 in Orlando. UCF's lone win at home against ECU came in 2010 when a 49-35 victory kept the Knights on course for the league title in Ruffin McNeill's first season as head coach.

The UCF venture will be the first Thursday night game for the Pirates since a 54-42 win at Alabama-Birmingham on Nov. 11, 2010, made ECU bowl eligible.

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Al Myatt Archives

05/11/2012 01:51 AM


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