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Thursday, November 6, 2014

By Al Myatt

Al Myatt


Pirates regroup from Philly fumbles

By Al Myatt
2014 Bonesville.net
All rights reserved.

The 24-hour rule that serves as a buffer between games expired Sunday after East Carolina's 20-10 loss at Temple on Saturday. The span increased to 48 hours and then 72 hours before the Pirates finally got back on the practice field Wednesday.

ECU coach Ruffin McNeill wanted his players to take some time off, rest and focus on academics at the outset of the 12-day period between American Athletic Conference games that will culminate with a contest at Cincinnati at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 13.

"I told them to get away," McNeill said. "That was like talking to a wall. They were over here after our meeting Sunday. Monday, they were over here. Tuesday, they were hanging around.

"That's the kind of team we have, resilient."

The team's reaction is reminiscent of their mindset following the only previous loss, 33-23, at South Carolina on Sept. 6 when McNeill observed numerous laptops playing game tape on the bus ride back from Columbia.

While some of the coaching staff was able to get out of the office and make some efforts recruiting, McNeill, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and defensive coordinator Rick Smith were in the office doing some evaluation following the loss to the Owls.

ECU beat Temple virtually everywhere but on the scoreboard at Lincoln Financial Field, outgaining their hosts 432-135 in total yardage.

Turnovers and penalties proved the equalizers on a chilly, rainy and windy afternoon in Philadelphia.

"It gave us a chance to say, 'OK, where are we as a team on offense and defense?' " McNeill said of the down time at the outset of the week. "We came up with some positives and some negative things we have to work on."

The ECU coach noted that his team had just nine turnovers in its previous seven games before losing five fumbles at Temple.

"We've been very good on turnovers," McNeill said.

The Pirates had 12 penalties for 120 yards in Philly, which prompted Ruff to do some comparisons.

"I talked to Art Briles (Baylor coach), who I coached with," McNeill said. "They're at 82 total penalties (for the season). Marshall is at 73 total penalties. We're at 74. UCLA is up there (74). There are a lot of teams that are there and there are some teams that are doing well at it. I'm not sure if it's because we're a fast-paced offense. Art's a fast pace. UCLA is a fast pace.

"We work on them every day. We talk about them every day. We'll continue to do that. Lincoln said we're running more plays and therefore we're susceptible to more penalties."

ECU has been up and down in penalties during the McNeill era.

In 2010, his first season, the Pirates were flagged 103 times, tied for sixth most in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

In 2011, ECU drew just 59 penalties for the season, which was tied for 19th nationally for fewest in the FBS.

ECU was tied for 11th nationally for fewest penalties in 2012 with 55. The Pirates had 69 penalties last season. This year's team has already committed five more penalties than last year's team did with four games left in the regular season.

"We know we can't have penalties because it hurts us," McNeill said. "We'll keep watching film and fixing the controllable ones. If there's a tough call made, we have to overcome that. ... Everything we're doing we can fix and we will fix."

Among the positives is ECU's cumulative performance in the fourth quarter. The Pirates (6-2, 3-1 AAC) have outscored all opponents 83-31 in the last period and 41-0 in league games.

The defense has been effective although that side of the ball tends to get overlooked because ECU can be so dynamic offensively.

The Pirates are allowing just 96.8 yards per game rushing, which ranks seventh in the FBS. ECU is 24th nationally in total defense at 339.4 yards per game. Scoring defense can be deceptive since all points allowed are figured in. The Pirates yielded just two scores to the Temple offense Saturday. The Owls' first score was on a fumble return where it appeared a Temple defender was down with the ball in his own territory before he was hit by an ECU player and the ball popped free again.

The Owls fumbled four times and recovered all four.

"The conditions were there for both teams," McNeill said. "We don't make excuses but it was a factor. It was wet and cold but you've got to be ready to play in that. ... I know it's going to be cold in Cincinnati."

Players who fumble go to the sandpit at ECU's practice facility as a consequence.

The Pirates are at 23.0 in points allowed per game, which ranks tied for 42nd in the FBS in scoring defense.

McNeill noted that ECU has made stops on 76 of 105 opponent possessions in 2014. The Pirates have gone three downs and out 36 times.

With conditions likely to be more severe the remainder of the season, there are plans to be better dressed for the weather than ECU appeared to be on Saturday. McNeill said that lined ponchos, especially for skill players who handle the ball, have been discussed. That item apparently wasn't transported to Temple. There were gloves and hand pouches in Philly. Some players changed their under layers and uniforms for dry jerseys during the game, McNeill said.

There hasn't been a lot of extremely cold weather to deal with since McNeill became coach. The Military Bowl in Washington, D.C. in 2010 was probably the lowest in terms of the chill factor.

McNeill said the Temple game can be a learning experience when the Pirates are presented with similar circumstances.

"We'll make corrections and FIDO," McNeill said. "Forget it and drive on."

E-mail Al Myatt

PAGE UPDATED 11/06/14 03:10 AM.

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