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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

By Bethany Bradsher

Pirates cramming for Russell Wilson test

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

The East Carolina football coaches talk convincingly about fundamentals and taking care of the things they can control, but this week is the ideal time to adopt another slogan, borrowed from sixth century Chinese war strategist Sun Tzu:

“It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.”

N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson might not exactly be an enemy, but he is probably the most dangerous opponent to stare down the Pirates’ defense so far this season. And as they play a life-size game of Whack-A-Mole, the ECU defenders need to be ready to strike down as many of Wilson’s tactics as possible.

To frustrate his effectiveness, ECU defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell said, the Pirates will have to anticipate what he does and zero in on two weapons particularly: His long pass and his scrambling yardage.

“Up front, you’ve got to take something away,” Mitchell said. “You can’t let him run and pass and have the ability to keep you off balance. The most important thing with him is to play with leverage.

"In the pass game, it’s vertical — let’s make sure we’re on top so that we’re not giving up big plays, and within the run game and his scrambling ability we must keep him contained, no ifs, ands or buts about it.

“You can’t go in saying, we’re going to play the perfect game against him and stop every play, not try to put a blanket over everything, but say, ‘We’re not going to let him do this,’ and ‘We’re not going to let him do that,’ and throw a jab, throw a jab, throw an uppercut.”

Wilson is second in the nation in passing yards, with 1,802. He has thrown 17 touchdown passes, seven more than any other quarterback in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the third most in the nation. He is also the Wolfpack’s third-leading rusher with 59 attempts for 163 yards.

And lest anyone forget in the bright light of his stats, Pirate defenders who have studied Wilson this week are quick to point out that he does not work alone.

“Russell Wilson, he’s a good player, and they’ve got a great offensive line,” said sophomore defensive tackle Michael Brooks. “I think we’ve got just as good players on our D Line as they do on their O Line.”

The Pirates have keyed on the Wilson’s strong supporting cast in practice and film study, said senior linebacker Dustin Lineback, well aware that if they can poke holes in the offensive line or the receivers’ rhythm, they can trip up Wilson. They dissected film of N.C. State’s game against Central Florida, whose defense held Wilson to just 105 passing yards.

Above all, said senior defensive tackle Josh Smith, they need to stay locked into their specific roles even when things start to unravel.

“Everybody’s going to have to play their assignment, or you’re going to lose containments and it’s going to get out of hand,” Smith said. “What happens when the quarterback scrambles like that is people come off of their receivers, and then receivers start running around all over the field. And you can’t necessarily cover that if there’s no method to the madness.”

Encouraged by their scrappy play in ECU’s improbable second-half comeback against Southern Miss on Saturday, the Pirate defenders feel like their unit is just getting its sea legs after preseason injuries to players like Brooks, Antonio Allison and Jimmy Booth. The bad news is that they will face the Wolfpack without starting free safety Derek Blacknall, who learned on Tuesday that he was suspended for one game by Conference USA after a flagrant personal foul against Southern Miss wide receiver Quentin Pierce.

Wilson’s play has drawn comparisons to that of Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns against ECU. But while the game in Blacksburg might have served as a type of warm-up for Saturday’s Wolfpack visit, the ECU defensive personnel have noticed that Wilson is quicker to pass first than Taylor, shorter than his Hokie counterpart and, according to Mitchell, more talented.

“Tyrod is a good player, but I think this kid is a better passer, and I think he’s looking to pass the ball first instead of running,” Mitchell said. “I think the kid is a student of the game. They can say what they want to say about him — he’s 5-11, he plays baseball. He’s a great competitor for one. And two, I think so far he’s the best quarterback we’ve seen, and may see all year.”

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10/13/2010 02:33 AM

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