Defense Shines In First ECU Fall Football Stadium Scrimmage
As East Carolina progresses into their 2020 fall football camp, the team made their way through their first full scrimmage on Saturday in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Blake Harrell's defense forced seven turnovers and five sacks while limiting the ECU offense to just one touchdown and four field goals during the 94-play scrimmage.
The Pirates defense recorded five interceptions - two by junior transfer Robert Kennedy, to go along with recovering a pair of fumbles.
On offense, ECU ran the football 46 times and featured a rotation of quarterbacks consisting of Holton Ahlers, Bryan Gagg, Mason Garcia, Taji Hudson, Ryan Stubblefield and Alex Flinn who collectively completed 19-of-48 passes.
Stubblefield, a true freshman, guided ECU to its only touchdown of the game when he found Cam Burnette on a 23-yard scoring strike late in the scrimmage.
Of East Carolina's 21 overall offensive possessions, 16 ended in stops either via downs, punts or turnovers. Malik Fleming, Teylor Jackson and Jireh Wilson also added picks, while Wilson and Jason Romero each tallied fumble recoveries.
In all, the Pirates' offense was held to just four plays of 20-plus yards. A 30-yard Stubblefield-to-Tyler Savage pass marked the longest aerial gain, while Demetrius Mauney's 26-yard run was the longest producer on the ground according to statistics provided by ECU Athletics' Media Relations team.
Mike Houston came away generally pleased overall with the way his team performed. He liked a lot of the little things like the echo in the stadium during the flex segment of practice before the scrimmage began.
“Just feeling the energy and hearing the kids is really when it’s like it’s supposed to be like,” said Houston, “It was great to get back out there. It was great weather. Some good and some back just like every scrimmage. The head coach is usually the only one that is happy because one side of the ball has had a good day and one side has had a bad day usually.”
“Early on typically in the preseason, the defense is a little ahead of the offense and I think that’s what we saw today,” Houston stated.
“I thought we had tremendous energy on the defensive sideline. They are flying around like they’re supposed to I think the changes and adjustments that we have made during the offseason and the hard work and dedication that Coach Harrell and the staff have made in changing our scheme and the job they’ve done with those kids was very, very evident today. I’m really pleased with the way they competed.”
The ECU defense helped generate multiple turnovers and forced fumbles, making for an area of concern offensively while Houston expressed confidence in what this Pirate offense is capable of doing as well.
ECU made it through the first scrimmage with no injuries in just under a hundred total snaps.
“It was a very solid first scrimmage and it gives us a good evaluation where we are with some stuff and a lot of that, it’s the first time we’ve done it in almost a year so we’ve got some rust that we’ve got to work though but it was just really good to be back out there.”
Some of the players who Houston said stood out were Jirah Wilson at the SAM linebacker position for ECU who used his length to make a very athletic interception.
Mason Garcia is getting better every practice and put in a good day’s work at backup quarterback. He did some good things but is still getting used to the speed of the college game.
Placekicker Jake Verity showed very few signs of an offseason injury and had a solid day for ECU according to Coach Houston.
Freshmen receiver Tyler Savage at 6-3, 200 pounds out of Aldie, Virginia and running back Rahjai Harris out of Duncan, South Carolina continue to get better and better. Houston indicated there could be some surprises at running back when the season begins.
Finding ways to shed the first tackler will prove to be important in the success of the ECU run game and Coach Houston talked about that some on Saturday.
“That’s going to be one of the big evaluations of the day. That was one of the most extended, live contact session that we’ve had so far in fall camp. The key really is there is going to be X number of yards that is there because of how the O-line and tight ends and receivers block everything up,” Houston told PirateIllustrated.com.
“The key to a great running back is what does he do after contact. What yardage does he get after what was already there. An average running back is going to get the yardage that is there and that’s all he’s going to do. Certainly we have some guys who run with some power"
"I think we have a lot depth in that room and a tremendous amount of competition. This is a deal where I couldn’t tell you who is going to be the starter in game one. I think there are a lot of candidates and some of the guys you might assume they would be, well I wouldn’t count some of those other guys out either. I feel very, very good about that room - five deep and there was a lot of competition out there today.”
Houston indicated that every scholarship player saw action on Saturday. All were tested for Covid19 on Thursday and talked about how ECU is a bit more strict in that regard. Having a medical school facility in Greenville speeds things up a bit when it comes to testing and Houston did not indicate any major problems.