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Sept. 22, 2012 | Kenan Stadium | Chapel Hill | Attendance: 59,500

Features >> Inside Game Day | Game Slants | Photo Gallery | Post-game Audio

Game Slants
Saturday, September 22, 2012

By Denny O'Brien

Not much “Air” in ECU’s “Raid”

By Denny O'Brien
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CHAPEL HILL — Four games should provide enough time to establish an offensive identity. But after East Carolina’s humbling 27-6 loss to North Carolina, the Pirates still find themselves struggling to find one.

If you had to assign ECU an offensive label at this stage of the season, disorganized and inconsistent are the only options that fit.

For the second consecutive week, the Pirates failed to crack 250 yards of total offense and struggled to find any consistent rhythm. Outside of two scoring drives that concluded with frustrating short field goals, ECU was largely out of sorts against a young North Carolina defense.

That was especially true following intermission when the Tar Heels blitzed Pirates quarterback Shane Carden from the moment they exited the locker room. ECU looked completely unprepared and never recovered from the barrage of pressure that fueled 14 quick points and put the game away.

“(Carden) was under duress,” Pirates Coach Ruffin McNeill said after the game. “I’ll watch the film tomorrow and be able to tell, but they did a good job being able to pressure with four and defend. If you can do that against any offense and have seven in coverage, then you’re going to be good.

"I saw them blitz and get to us a little, so we’ll watch it tomorrow and see. Protection and decisions, maybe we could have gotten rid of the ball a little quicker, we don’t know. I’ll watch the film.”

Perhaps part of the issue with ECU’s offense is that film is an apparent prerequisite to any improvement. Any noticeable adjustments seem to occur during practice, not on the fly in the middle of games.

The apparent inability to formulate any about-face to in-game offensive strategy puts the Pirates’ personnel at a supreme disadvantage. On Saturday, it kept Carden firmly planted in the turf for much of the day.

“We couldn’t finish drives,” said Carden, who threw for 124 yards and suffered seven sacks. “We started out the second quarter and we did well. We were driving the ball well. We just couldn’t finish those drives. We do that, and we have two touchdowns.

"I think we kind of let them get to us. They made some big plays, but we’ve got to answer with that.”

So do the coaches who are responsible for putting Carden and his teammates in situations conducive to success.

That didn’t seem to be the case for most of the second half, when Carden ran the equivalent of three miles avoiding the relentless Tar Heels rush. Those occasions when he hurled the ball desperately into the seats marked some of the Pirates’ more successful offensive efforts of the second half.

While some of the Pirates’ misfortune can certainly be traced to Carden’s overall inexperience, it’s tough to pinpoint any specific adjustments intended to provide him with needed assistance.

No designed dump offs. No max protection formations. No presence of the shovel pass that has brought some success this season.

Just a defenseless quarterback with little time to properly run through progressions.

The 2010 arrival of the vaunted Air Raid attack promised to usher in a record-setting era of offensive football for ECU. It was met with enthusiasm from a fan base that was growing somewhat unsatisfied with 21-17 wins.

For most of its inaugural campaign, it did as designed, piling up yardage and points at an unprecedented rate. But somewhere along the way, the ECU offense took a U-turn, which to some degree can be attributed to inexperienced personnel.

Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s first offense included an NFL quarterback and receiver, and other established players who spent time in professional camps. Some level of decline can be expected with the loss of such key personnel.

But three years in with hardly any coaching attrition, the ECU offense should have the look of a well-oiled operation. Presently it has the resemblance of anything but.

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09/23/2012 02:45:42 AM

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