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Game No. 13: Maryland 51, ECU 20

Game Center: Maryland 51, ECU 20 O'Brien: Setback will be forgotten in 2011
Box Score / Statistics Bailey: Pirates fail to answer the bell
BVL Audio: Coach Ruff Postgame... ECU Schedule, Scores, Attendance
BVL Audio: ECU Players Postgame... C-USA Bowl Scoreboard, Schedule, TV
Baily: Photo Gallery #4 ECU Media Relations/AP Game Recap

Game Slants
Wednesday, December 29, 2010

By Denny O'Brien

Setback will be forgotten in 2011

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON, DC — There will be better days for Dominique Davis, afternoons that are more consistent with the ones he typically enjoys in an East Carolina uniform.

My hunch is we'll see more performances like his debut against Tulsa, where he threw for 383 yards and five scores. And I'm betting there will be more heroic efforts like we witnessed against N.C. State, when he calmly cruised the Pirates down the field for a fourth quarter tie and later provided the winning touchdown in overtime.

That's the Dominique Davis with whom we're most familiar. Not the one who was indecisive and largely ineffective in a 51-20 loss to Maryland in Wednesday's Military Bowl.

If there is one consolation the Pirates can take away from their loss to the Terps, it's that Davis's performance couldn't have been more uncharacteristic. Odds are it will remain the exception and not the rule for the remainder of his already decorated career.

Especially when weapons like receiver Lance Lewis (11 catches, 137 yards, 1 TD) — the Pirates' offensive star against the Terps — return next year. His presence, along with the return of several others, ensures that ECU will have one of the nation's more dynamic offenses in 2011.

At least that should be the expectation given the Pirates' productivity this fall. Now that ECU has a full year within the new system under its belt, there is no reason to believe the Pirates won't demonstrate significant offensive improvement.

“Dominique will have a spring (practice),” Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill said. “Can you imagine? He didn't have a spring, or quality summer, or anything like that with Lincoln (Riley).

“Now he gets an offseason, spring, summer and another camp with Lincoln. He'll be better.”

Make that infinitely better than he was Wednesday.

The otherwise accurate marksman struggled to hit targets, often throwing over, past, and behind open receivers. He appeared uncomfortable in the pocket and rushed throws while under the duress of a furious Maryland rush.

“The time off might have hurt us just a little bit,” McNeill said. “Our timing (was off), even though we've gone speed on speed in practices.

“We probably could have executed better. That's one of the things that I talked about was execution. The blitzes that Maryland showed were great. We saw them on film. They did a good job.”

So good that Davis and the ECU offense appeared three steps slower than the Terps' aggressive defense. The month-long layoff obviously applied a thick layer of rust onto the Pirates' offense, and Davis and his teammates were unable to knock any of it off.

Some of that can no doubt be attributed to Maryland's multiple blitz packages, which certainly disrupted Davis' rhythm. It consistently flushed him from the pocket and prompted him to check down to underneath receivers well short of the first down marker.

The Pirates struggled to consistently move the chains as a result. Even so, it's not like Davis was the sole contributor to the Pirates' offensive woes.

On several occasions when the Pirates developed promising drives, they derailed them with penalties (15 for 120 yards) and turnovers (four). It reached a point during the game when it seemed as if each ECU first down came at the cost of a procedure infraction.

To some degree, the Pirates' inability to click offensively was understandable. The new offensive system has so many moving parts, and even the slightest glitch can be enough to sabotage a play for a significant loss.

Given that ECU is still relatively inexperienced in the new Air Raid offense, along with the lengthy layoff, the Pirates have hardly reached a point where they can run it on autopilot. Add to that the fact that ECU played with its third-team center, and you can understand some of the communication lapses that occurred along the offensive front.

As for Davis, odds are we won't remember his Military Bowl performance this time next year. He's too good and too much of a film room junkie for anything similar to occur again.

If other teams try to duplicate Maryland's defensive approach, expect a better effort from the rising senior.

Against the emotionally charged Terps, we likely saw the worst we'll see of Davis. And despite his record-setting season, my guess is we've yet to see his best.

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12/30/2010 06:36:14 AM

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