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From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, October 9, 2012

By Brian Bailey

Brian Bailey

Back to work on a winning campaign

By Brian Bailey
All rights reserved.

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This roller coaster of a season certainly took one on the downward side this past Thursday night as East Carolina bolted out to an early 14-0 lead on the road, only to be outscored 40-6 the rest of the way in a 40-20 loss to Central Florida.

The Pirates really never knew what hit them after a 99-yard kickoff return from Quincy McDuffie cut the early lead in half. This team simply never recovered.

“We just couldn’t do anything after that return,” said linebacker Jeremy Grove. “We just never got the momentum back.”

The Pirate defense was especially disappointing Thursday night, as UCF was never stopped after its first possession.

I asked ECU coach Ruffin McNeill if not answering the bell after a big play like that was a maturity issue.

“(UCF Coach) George (O’Leary) told one of our coaches that he had seen some of that this year,” said McNeill at his Monday press conference. [Replay the audio from Monday's press conference...] “He said his older guys weren’t fazed by falling behind early. We have to do a better job of handling situations like that.”

We are at the halfway mark of the season, and the Pirates are three up and three down. East Carolina has four of its next six games at home. The tough part of the slate is certainly in the rear view mirror.

That’s what makes that 14-0 lead and what happened afterwards so frustrating. East Carolina was in position, despite some of its early-season struggles, to be on track for a Conference USA title.

Despite the loss, there is plenty of football still to be played. It is possible that UCF will not be eligible for postseason. The Pirates have to take care of their own business and then get a little help.

The disadvantage of the Thursday game is the short week. That turns into an advantage for the next game, especially if you can win the Thursday night special.

Regardless, the Pirates took the extra time to hit the recruiting trail and to evaluate things at the midway point.

“Defensively, we need to continue our emphasis on stopping the run,” said McNeill. “We also need to eliminate giving up long plays and making sure that we can get off the field on third down.”

McNeill also gave his team passing marks on offense.

“Offensively we have had really good gains on first down," he said. "I think we have been very balanced offensively this season. Our time possession has also been strong. We have also been effective at executing in the red zone.”

McNeill knows the key is to take advantage of those trips to the red zone. The Pirates were hurt several times this season when they had to settle for field goals.

One of the glaring problems from last week was on special teams. The Pirates gave up the touchdown on the kickoff return. The return teams also struggled all night long.

“On special teams we need to make sure our coverage teams are giving the defense good field position,” explained McNeill. “We also need to make sure our return teams are giving our offense great field position to start from. Nobody has worked harder than our special teams coach, Kirk Doll, to improve these areas.

"We need to correct our mistakes so we don’t make the same mistake twice and learn from the errors we have made in the past.”

McNeill summed up his Monday briefing by emphasizing the importance of his squad casting uncertainty aside and not wavering when tested.

“As a team we need to stop hesitating," he declared. "On Thursday against Central Florida, we had some hesitation and it cost us some big plays on both offense and defense.”

The schedule is softer. The Pirates play two–thirds of the rest of their games at home.

As this team builds confidence, those hesitations will be a thing of the past as Ruffin McNeill and company work towards a postseason bowl berth.

The second half of the year kicks off with Homecoming against the Memphis Tigers.


E-mail Brian Bailey.

Brian Bailey Archives

10/09/2012 02:37 AM


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