Old Cliché Becoming Achilles' Heel
by Josh Spence

Football coaches at nearly every level will tell you that the key to winning football games is running the ball and stopping the run. Sure, some coaches focus on other aspects, but for the most part, I think most would agree that controlling the run game, on both sides, leads to wins.

After losing to Navy 28-23, East Carolina has to start the season from behind, and it was the inability to control the run game that cost them. “The front seven on defense and offensive line is where we have our most inexperience.  The same thing that we were concerned about during camp is what hurt us on the field,” said Coach Holtz. 

Heading into the game against Navy, there weren’t many secrets about how the game would be played.  Navy has led the country in rushing in two of the last three years, and they haven’t been worse than third in the nation in rushing in the five years that Paul Johnson has been head coach.  Add the fact that ECU was a mere 112th in run defense in 2005, and Navy was expected to run the football.     

East Carolina was expected to showcase a sharp passing offense. James Pinkney is one of the top passers in Pirates history and there’s a wealth of talent and depth at receiver that would hopefully hide inexperience up front. 

Navy ran it, the Pirates passed it, and Navy came out on top.  A close game decided by the Pirates' inability to run or stop Navy’s run.  ECU was able to rack up 283 passing yards and two touchdowns, but only managed 76 rushing yards.  Navy ran the ball 70 times for a total of 403 yards, but only managed 6 passing yards, giving ECU the title of the No. 1 ranked passing defense in the country. 

An honor I’m sure they would trade for a victory. 

If you listened to our exclusive Bill Clark Homes 5th Quarter Call-In Show after the game, you heard most fans share the same sentiment. Most thought that the Pirates lost a tough battle with a good team, but thought ECU would be OK this season.

I was impressed with the energy with which the team played, as well as the focus and apparent sharpness the team showed in the first half. ECU only had one turnover.  It came on a solid defensive strip while Bobby Good was fighting for extra yards, a good sign, especially for the first game of the year.

However, I think the Pirates could be in trouble if they don’t grow up real quick.  On the offensive line a lot of mistakes were made.  The front five as a group will need to gel better to give the run game a chance. I believe that they will, I think the group shows promise, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later.  With this schedule, things can get out of hand quickly.  James Pinkney was also under too much pressure.  He was only sacked once, which is largely a credit to James, who was on the run out of the pocket all day long.

For the most part I thought the offense was the bright spot.  The running backs looked OK, but I think their lack of production statistically lies mostly with the inexperienced line.  On Saturday we saw the depth at wide receiver coach Holtz had talked about all camp long.  This seems to be the strength of the team, as Pinkney, whom I thought was very good, has a lot of worthy targets.  Pinkney was able to spread the ball around, preventing opposing defenses from keying in on one guy. Namely, number two. 

Defensively, I think the Pirates may be in for a long season. Unfortunately, there are just too many negatives adding up for this defensive unit.  Already a group that lost five of its top six tacklers from a year ago, including four starting linebackers, the defense maybe more than the o-line, needs to gain experience in a hurry.  With injuries to two of the projected starting linebackers, and now Brandon Setzer out for at least a couple of weeks from the d-line, injuries are hitting the Pirates where it hurts the most. 

Unfortunately for ECU, there’s no time heal.  ECU jumps right into divisional conference play with UAB this Saturday.  "I wish we had three or four non-conference games before we had to get into the conference race but this is the way the schedule is slated,” said coach Holtz.  The game carries huge implications as both teams play in the difficult East division in Conference USA.  Both are coming off of losses as well.  UAB played the 5th ranked Oklahoma Sooners tough, losing 24-17 in the waning minutes.

Josh Spence