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From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

By Brian Bailey

No where to go but up for ECU defense

Ruffin McNeill
Josh Smith
(ECU SID images)


Replay Monday night's Brian Bailey Show with guests PAUL CORNWELL, PHIL PADGETT, BOBBY CURLINGS and JIM BOB BRYANT. Eastern North Carolina's longest running sports radio call-in show airs each Monday night at 7 p.m. on Pirate Radio 1250 and 930.
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No where to go but up for ECU defense
Audio: Coach Ruff Game Week Press Conference
Difficult decisions loom for Ruff
Week #5 BCS Rankings
Harris, AP, Coaches Polls
C-USA Standings, Scores, Schedule, TV
Pirates exit Charleston with win
ECU-Rice Game Center
Defense going downhill
Audio: Ruff & Players Postgame Presser
Kevin's Keys to the Game

By Brian Bailey
All rights reserved.

The NCAA stats made it official this week.

East Carolina has the nation’s worst defense.

OK, it has been a struggle all year. Now, the defense has hit rock bottom. That’s probably not earth-shattering news for most Pirate fans.

A Rice team with just two wins on the season shredded the Pirate defense to the tune of a 62-point afternoon.

It was embarrassing, especially for those on the field.

“We’re just not very smart,” said defensive lineman Josh Smith. “You look at the film and we just aren’t where we are supposed to be. It certainly isn’t coaching. We are prepared, but it just takes one person to be in the wrong spot and that’s what you get.”

First-year coach Ruffin McNeill continues to try and keep the faith. The stress of his team’s problems on defense is vividly apparent with his expressions. You can read it on his face.

Someway, somehow, though, the Pirates have to at least slow down Southern Methodist this week and give their own offense a chance.

Defense was the first topic of conversation at Coach McNeill’s weekly press conference on Monday.

Is it talent? Is it coaching? The only consistency in the Pirate defense is that teams are rolling up huge numbers against the guys in purple.

“We’re lining up in the right spots, we just have to be physical and talented enough to get off blocks and make plays,” explained Coach McNeill. “There is no magical defense. You can have some plays where you have a guy come free, but a lot of times it boils down to beating the guy in front of you and getting off the block.”

McNeill refuses to use injuries as an excuse. The fact is that East Carolina was going to struggle on defense even if the squad had stayed healthy. Add in the injuries and you get a recipe for disaster.

“Losing Justin Dixon, Michael Brooks and Marke Powell is tough,” said McNeill. “I’m not going to lie. Those are our three best defensive linemen. Josh Smith, who is one of the best, is playing his tail off right now. I can’t hide it — we lost three of our best defensive players. We can’t replace them. Those injuries hurt.”

Now the challenge is to somehow stop the bleeding long enough to pull out a victory in the regular season finale.

Rice was just 2-8 with little to play for and the Owls looked like an NFL offense against East Carolina.

SMU comes to town on Friday battling for the West Division crown in Conference USA. The Mustangs certainly have plenty to play for and will provide quite a challenge for a defense that is reeling at best.

“We have to get their confidence back first of all,” said McNeill when I asked him how he could get this thing turned around in a short week. “It starts with that. I only know one way and that’s to keep working. There’s no substitute for that. We’re not going to be able to invent anything between now and Friday. We have to make sure we get their confidence back first.”

Getting that confidence back is much easier said than done.

“It just seems like one guy is out of position on each play and we shouldn’t be,” explained Josh Smith. “It’s assignment defense. We know our assignments. We just aren’t executing.”

Coach McNeill certainly would have liked to have had the likes of former Pirates and current NFL players Linval Joseph and C.J. Wilson in his defense. Smith agrees.

“Those guys were so good and had so much experience that they could make up for some of the mistakes that were made,” Smith said. “They were good enough to overcome some of the problems. Right now we don’t have anyone like that.”

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Coach McNeill says he has lots to be thankful for.

“I’m thankful for being here first of all,” McNeil explained. “I’m thankful for this football team, being back in Greenville and having the chance to come back. I’m thankful for the group of coaches I work with. They are great people and coaches who work hard. They don’t ask for anything, they just work. I like that about them.”

Pirate fans should be thankful that despite the nation’s worst defense, this Pirate squad should go bowling in December.

Sometimes in life you have to hit rock bottom before things get better.

The Pirate defense has come through a couple of times this year. This is a group that needs to right itself in a short week to give the Pirate offense a chance.


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11/23/2010 02:13 AM


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