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The most obvious
conclusion that can be drawn from East Carolina’s visit to Kenan Stadium
Saturday isn’t one most fans are likely to embrace. But it’s one that
now deserves serious consideration.
After ECU’s embarrassing
27-6 loss at North Carolina, the
school's athletics administration needs to seriously evaluate the
football program’s non-conference scheduling philosophy. The rationale
behind establishing it has now run its course.
When Terry Holland
unveiled the lineup of power conference opponents that would dot ECU’s
schedule, it was met with resounding popularity. Given the climate of
program at the time, you can certainly understand why.
Following the John
Thompson coaching debacle that dug ECU a deep competitive hole, the
Pirates were in dire need of something to generate excitement —
something more than what could be delivered with the presence of a new
The unveiling of a
non-conference schedule that included in-state and regional opponents
from BCS AQ leagues more than accomplished that. A sense of that old ECU
football pride was revived and season ticket sales skyrocketed as a
The move even produced a
couple of victories that commanded national headlines and placed the
Pirates into way-too-early conversations about emerging as a BCS buster.
However, the number of
lopsided losses — especially of late — have far outnumbered the
headline-catching wins. And it’s growing more difficult to identify the
benefits of getting routinely hammered by AQ opponents as a result.
It’s certainly not the
scheduling model Boise State leveraged to build itself into a legitimate
Instead, the Broncos
loaded up on non-conference cupcakes that they routinely ran into the
ground. That, combined with a laugher of a conference schedule,
delivered multiple undefeated seasons and BCS bowl berths.
Looking back, you have to
wonder if that would have been a possibility for the Pirates. But with
the unveiling of a playoff system, and a selection committee that will
determine its makeup, making a similar splash will be more difficult
With the oversized
television revenue that will accompany it, the competitive gap is also
likely to rise between the current AQ leagues and those outside of them.
As a result, it will grow increasingly more difficult for ECU to compete
with middling ACC opponents.
Sticking with committee
After a six-carry, 68-yard
performance against the Tar Heels, it would seem Pirates running back
Vintavious Cooper has earned more touches. But that’s not necessarily
Following the Pirates loss
to North Carolina, Pirates Coach Ruffin McNeill said he plans to stick
with his by-committee approach to the position.
“We want to keep
shuffling,” McNeill said. “We want a running back by committee. We don’t
want one running back. I learned my lesson a little bit with that last
"But ‘Tay’ does a good
job. ‘Tay’ has a knack for running behind his pads and being his own
blocker at times.”
You can certainly
understand the notion of having more than one dependable back, but at
the same time you have to wonder why the ECU staff seems to resist the
option of establishing a go-to guy. That could partially explain some of
the Pirates’ offensive woes.
Cooper, who averages 5.5
yards per carry, was one of the offensive catalysts behind the Pirates’
second half surge last week at Southern Miss. He also was the offensive
bright spot against the Heels Saturday.
Perhaps a bigger dose of
Cooper is part of the prescription the ECU offense desperately needs.
Lack of pressure
It’s easy to target the
ECU secondary with criticism following Heels’ quarterback Bryn Renner’s
321-yard, two touchdown performance on Saturday. There was no shortage
of open receivers from which to choose.
But there also was no
shortage of time for Renner to properly run through his progressions.
The Pirates’ inability to
apply pressure on Renner was as much at fault for ECU’s defensive
shortcomings in the game as the secondary’s inability to cover. After
unleashing a barrage of blitzes in Hattiesburg last Saturday, you had to
figure that would be part of the plan against the less mobile Renner.
Instead the Pirates seemed
more content to rush four and drop seven against the Heels’ spread
attack. The result was a seemingly effortless, yet successful day for