Depending on the Undependable
by Allen Thomas

Performance in football is a funny thing.  Every team experiences variability in performance level on any given Saturday, regardless of opponent.  What really matters is if a team on its worst day can still be talented enough to pull out a win against an inferior opponent playing at their best.

The obvious truth about the Pirates is they can lose to any opponent on the schedule on any given Saturday. Case in point-Marshall.  ECU doesn't possess the overwhelming talent to expect to 'out athlete' anybody and beat any team when we are out-of-sync in offensive game execution.

I am as upset as the next person with the loss to Marshall, the lack of execution on offense and porous defense, but it's not as shocking a loss as is being portrayed. 

We CLEARLY- depend on things happening in a ball game- which occur with a high degree of variability. Turnovers must happen.  Also, we must score and take advantage of turnovers. And our field goal kicker can NOT be a liability.

The Pirates are deficient on defense so we try to bang out points on offense and keep everything in front of us defensively, giving up a ton of yardage and forcing teams to take a million snaps to get to pay dirt (normally).

With each increased snap comes the increased opportunity to create turnovers.  Inversely we have done a great job protecting the football which has resulted in one of the best turnover margins in the nation. This philosophy has held true throughout the season, but when we don't score in waves, and when teams don't turn the ball over, we have a narrow margin of opportunity.

Thank goodness we have shown the ability to score in multiples but we will always struggle until we mature fundamentally as a football team and experience some continuity.  All the smoke and mirrors can't hide the fact we have no depth at offensive line and not enough on defense.  A mature program has seasoned lineman full of 5th-year seniors in the front rotation with the occasionally upstart underclassmen too talented to keep out of the lineup.

It normally takes a new coach staff 5-7 years to create continuity up front in a program.  I like the talent Skip and company have been stockpiling and if we can keep him in-place for enough time to get the pipeline going up front, I feel good about not having to depend on winning 46-35 every week. Then we reach the status of playing 'ugly' and on our worse day still beating marginal teams by scores like 17-7 (see: Virginia Tech).  That is my goal.

In regards to Marshall, they executed a risky game plan against us and it worked. We could play them again next Saturday and most likely beat them and score 45 points. Why?  Next time QB Bernard Morris is doing a risky scramble, we fall on one or two of their fumbles, or they throw interceptions when pressured to get back into the game, and our kicker actually makes 30 yard kicks. The variables fall our way next time as they did against UTEP, UNC, Houston, etc.

"Depending on the undependable."  That sums up ECU football 2007.  It's a "risk-reward" endeavor.  But when the breaks don't come the Pirates way, they struggle to find ways to win.  Here's to a few more years of continuity for the ECU program and less heart medication needed for the Pirate faithful in the future.

Until then, love'em, hate'em, and hold on to your hat....  ECU football is never a dull ride.

Allen Thomas