From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, September 24, 2013

By Brian Bailey
WNCT-TV 9 Sports Director

Brian Bailey

It's time to deploy the chip


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By Brian Bailey
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The theme at East Carolina’s first practice of the week on Sunday night was clear. The Pirate players and coaches were looking at Saturday's game against in-state rival North Carolina as ‘the next game on the schedule.’

Sorry folks, it’s not.

I rarely disagree with Pirate head coach Ruffin McNeill but I do on this one.

Of course, I really don’t believe that McNeill or anyone else associated with the program looks at this matchup with North Carolina as just another game. I think they know it’s important, but have decided to spin their interest in a different way looking for better results.

I asked Coach Ruff about the importance of the game after practice on Sunday night. Another reporter asked the same question at Monday’s press conference. Both times the emphasis was deflected away the same way McNeill deflected passes as a defensive back at ECU in the late ‘70s.

“Wins are big,” explained Coach McNeill. “I just want to get on the field again for our players. The last game we played, that was a tough locker room to address. I’ve addressed a lot of locker rooms as a coordinator and a head coach, and its tough. These kids have invested a lot and I want to win for them first. All games are big to a coach. I understand the in-state rivalry. I’m looking forward to the competition, the contest and the challenge, but I’m looking forward to doing what we need to do to make sure we have success on Saturday.”

McNeill refused to be reeled in. They all know it’s bigger. It’s another rare chance to, as Coach Ruff likes to say, to put your big boy pads on.

The Pirates desperately want a chance to play in the bigger bowls. The move to the American Athletic Conference is certainly a step. All of the teams in the AAC, though, have to play and beat the big boys in order for that league to move up in stature.

ECU isn't expected to win every game against BCS teams. But McNeill and this staff understand that the expectations are there from the fan base to win their share.

The Pirates had plenty of chances to steal one from Virginia Tech a couple of weeks ago. This past week, Conference USA rival Marshall had an even better chance to pull the upset over the Hokies.

Sometimes teams just aren’t ready to take advantage of the opportunity.

The Pirates want to show that they are ready for this challenge. East Carolina heads to Chapel Hill as an 11-point underdog.

“I think it will be a tough test for us,” said Tar Heels quarterback Bryn Renner. “They have a chip on their shoulder because we are Carolina and they are East Carolina but I think it will be a great game like it is every year.“

I’m not sure what Brenner meant by that comment. I do know the Tar Heels lead the all-time series 12-2-1. I have a good idea what Brenner meant, though. It’s the same chip I’m talking about. That’s the importance of a game like this in a nutshell.

The Pirates need to take that chip on their shoulder with them to Kenan Stadium this weekend.

“We know what they think about us,” said Pirate quarterback Shane Carden. “That’s fine. We just want to go there this week and play well.”

Carden made his second career start last year in Chapel Hill. The Heels took advantage of Carden’s inexperience and pressured him all afternoon.

“I think we’ll be better this year,” said Carden. “I watched the film and we had some opportunities in that game.”

ECU comes into this matchup after an off-week. The Heels come in after losing at Georgia Tech. The Pirates could be getting the Heels at a good time, because physically it’s very difficult to bounce back after playing an option football team with all of the cut blocks at the line of scrimmage.

McNeill says his team spent their off-week working on the basics.

“There is no substitute for fundamental improvement, making sure we get better at the little things, from footwork to body position, blocking, tackling, routes, defensive positions and fitting on runs,” explained McNeill. “We did a lot of good on good, and best on best last week to keep the speed of the game there for the guys.”

With realignment in college football, where everything is about the dollar, we are losing rivalries that made the sport as popular as it is today.

In-state games are big for both teams. In order to be a true rivalry, however, both teams have to earn their share of wins.

The Pirates have some work to do in that department and they hope it begins in Chapel Hill on Saturday.


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09/24/2013 03:23 AM