Crow for the Pirates
by Josh Spence

Owls are known for their hoot, but it’s crow on the menu for yours truly.  East Carolina lost 18-17 to the Rice Owls, and I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong.  If you heard our pregame program Saturday, you heard us criticize the Rice defense a lot.  I like my crow well done please. 
It was, in fact, the Rice defense that proved to be the difference in the ball game holding the Pirates to 0 yards of offense in the fourth quarter, and only 90 yards and seven points in the entire second half. 
In games as close as that one, you can pick out many individual plays that could have changed the outcome.  ECU, in fact, missed a 33-yard field goal that would have changed it.   The Pirates also suffered a 3rd-quarter safety that would have made the difference. 
The bottom line for the Pirates, however, comes down to offensive execution late in the ball game, something the Pirates didn’t do very well.  Chris Johnson scored on a 43-yard run late in the third to lift the Pirates to a 17-9 lead.  Little did they know that the offense was done for the day. 
The Pirates got the ball three times in the fourth quarter and gained 0 yards.  Three times ECU went three and out, when they needed it most, against the league's worst defense. 

Certainly, the Pirates' defense played well enough to win.  Despite allowing a season high 458 yards, Greg Hudson’s unit produced two key interceptions, and one turnover on downs late in the game, opening the door for the offense to seal the deal. 
Although the defense allowed a season high yardage, they did enough to win by holding the Owls to only 16 points offensively.  Not bad for a team averaging around 33 per.  It was a lack of production by the Pirate offense, and a surprising Rice defense, that did the Pirates in. 
What happened to the Pirates' offense?  Probably the same thing that happened to Pirates' running backs Brandon Fractious and Dominique Lindsay, who were nowhere to be found in the second half.  For whatever reason, the Pirates went almost exclusively with Chris Johnson in the backfield.  Not that Johnson played all that badly, but how does a guy carry the ball ten times for 83 yards in the first half, and not get a single carry after halftime? 
Perhaps the key stat in this ball game, and this season for that matter, is time of possession.  ECU is now 6-0 when winning that statistical battle, 0-5 when they lose it.  The Pirates had an edge 17:25 to 12:35 in the first half, but lost for the game 32 minutes to 27.  In other words, Rice dominated the second half grinding 20 minutes off the clock with their offense on the field, and holding the Pirates offensive unit to just ten.
The postseason picture that once looked as if it would include two games for the Pirates, now may not even feature one.  It is conceivable that ECU loses to NC State, finishes 6-6, and is not selected to play in a bowl game.  Right now, Conference USA has seven teams that could become “bowl eligible” by season's end.    Conference USA is tied into five bowl games, so the teams that finish 6-6 leave their postseason lives in the hands of a selection committee.  If ECU can win over NC State, the Pirates will definitely play in a bowl game.  And if Marshall can take out Southern Miss. in Hattiesburg Saturday, ECU will represent the East division of Conference USA in the league championship game at Houston on December 1st.  Two "ifs" the Pirates didn’t want to, and didn’t have to, deal with. 

Josh Spence