Donnie K Talks UCF and Gives His Keys to Victory For ECU
ECU faces perhaps their biggest challenge of the season in the home opener against UCF on Saturday in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Scoring points in abundance will be the objective for offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick who is no stranger to big tilts in Greenville.
Getting record setting quarterback Holton Ahlers untracked early against a veteran Knight defense will be key to the Pirates’ fortunes. The good thing is Ahlers is fully acclimated to the new ECU offense and that will be helpful.
“It’s night and day from this time last year. Early there was definitely some growing pains,” Kirkpatrick said, “You come in, you leave high school and you have one system, the next year and you have a new system and now you’re in your third system here. Some of it confuses you a little bit. Some of it is how we do things. Early in the year I kept saying we’re so close.”
“There were signs last year that we were getting it. We were about to turn the corner. We just weren’t scoring a lot of points. We couldn’t seem to put enough base hits together to score any runs there and eventually the second half of this game (the UCF game) it’s started to come together a little bit for us. I think he’s picked up from that. His accuracy has been the biggest improvement. It made a big jump last year. It’s been outstanding though during all the practices, all the team sessions. He’s now controlling the protections more. Making changes in plays a little bit more.”
While Ahlers has always been one of the leaders of the team his role in that regard has only increased this season.
“This year he’s become the leader of the whole team. That’s a big step when you do that. Now the defensive kids are listening to him and he is a great role model and that’s the kind of guy that a coach wants to be speaking and doing by example and having people follow him because he’s a gym rat, always over here watching tape and committed to the deal and doing what’s right off the field and leading in a positive manner.”
UCF’s defense presents a myriad of concerns for the Pirates and it has the attention of the ECU coaching staff heading into the first game on Saturday.
“They’ve got a lot of experience,” said Kirkpatrick, “They have couple of guys aren’t playing and you think wow it’s going to be really good then you look and say no that guy was in there last year and this guy played. He had seven sacks last year. This guy had 24 tackles.”
Kirkpatrick is high on UCF’s defensive personnel that have seen their share of big games over the course of time.
“The defensive ends are long and they can really run. Inside they’re big, they’re thick and the linebackers can just run too. They’re all long with long arms and they’ve got good height. The secondary plays with extreme confidence,” Kirkpatrick stated, “They just come after you every snap. They play a lot in your face, just man coverage. They can run and they’re long. They play super aggressive and they’re really good.”
While Kirkpatrick’s confidence in his group continues to grow, he doesn’t want to let that get out of hand before pulling off an upset or two and fully turning the corner offensively. But he talked about what he likes most entering the home opener.
“You hate to be too optimistic and on Wednesday it’s hard to be but so optimistic at times, going into such a tough game here to start off, but what I’ve liked is we’ve been able to run the ball so much better,” Kirkpatrick told PirateIllustrated.com, “We’ve improved so much with our run game.”
“I thought the pass game got pretty good by mid-season on, but we could not run the ball well enough to beat anybody really. That was the problem and it became so one dimensional and when that happens, they can just scheme you so much. They can put so many rushes in, different nickel and dime coverages, so many different schemes that makes it hard.”
“We’ve worked hard to run the ball. Some of that has been personnel. I think the running back room is vastly improved. I also think the offensive line is vastly improved in their run blocking.”
The Pirates have three good tight ends in Jeremy Lewis, Shane Calhoun and Zech Byrd. At tackle, they are mobile and ECU has good experience and quality at the center position. The makings of improvement are there but having said that, ball security will be at a premium. UCF forced five turnovers last week and that has Kirkpatrick’s full attention.
“It was a Malox moment there watching the game last Saturday. Of all the teams we’re going to play, you sure can’t give them more possessions. You surely can’t give them good field position like that too. Ball security is Captain Obvious. You have no chance in a game if you go in there and lose the turnover battle.”
“You can’t go in there conservatively and just say you’re just say squat on the ball or you’re not going to score enough points to beat them either so it’s a little bit of a Catch 22. Hopefully we will protect the ball at all positions and we’ve got to protect the quarterback so he won’t have such a tough time making the throws over people and get hit in the chin.”
Game time is set for 12 noon and will be televised on ABC. Stay tuned for more as game time approaches and afterward as PirateIllustrated.com enters our fifteenth year of ECU football coverage here on Rivals.com.