ECU Readies For An Improved William & Mary Football Team
While it is still relatively early in the first season of the Mike Houston era in Greenville, there are a number of red flags about the way ECU(1-2) is performing through three games.
William & Mary enters this week with convincing victories over both Layfayette and Colgate along with their lone loss against Virginia 52-17.
The Tribe scored on their first three drives of the game last week against Colgate and cruised from there to a 38-10 win. Owen Wright ran for a career high 108 yards on just 16 carries.
Darius Pinnix looks to be out again for this week at running back. Hussein Howe is listed as the starter. ECU is also high on both Demetrius Mauney along with Tay Williams in the backfield who is coming on strong in practice. Offensively there don't appear to be any other changes.
Defensively, the depth chart has expanded with several OR's at second string along the defensive line with Chandon Hickerson and Immanual Hickman along with Michael Witherspoon pushing Daniel Hickman for a job at cornerback.
Houston brings great familiarity with William & Mary says the Tribe will do a lot of unorthodox things offensively in what they call their "Go-Go" offense with two-back sets in trying to create number disadvantages at the point of attack. They will run the football and then are equally effective in the play action passing game. ECU will have to try to maintain containment of the quarterback in the pocket in order to be successful this Saturday.
Defensively the Tribe runs a 3-4 setup.
"The biggest difference in between in them this year and in past years is the play of their freshman quarterback. He's a dynamic playmaker. He's been very impressive in all three games this season," said Houston, "He's their leading rusher and their leading passer. He's got the ability to make the big play in the run game and he's got a big arm."
True freshman quarterback Hollis Mathis added 62 rushing yards on 13 carries with one touchdown and completed 11 of 19 passes for 189 yards. Hollis did the bulk of his work through the air in the first half where he connected on 8 of 12 for 159 yards That included a 27-yard touchdown pass to wideout Jordan Lowery.
This week's game serves as the Tribe's biggest matchup before moving into conference play so you can best bet they sense an opportunity to pick up a win over ECU who will get the Tribe's best shot on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Pirates have been soundly beaten in both of their FBS comtests and this week's game against William & Mary(2-1) may not be the greatest barometer of real improvement.
The play of Holton Ahlers at quarterback has been hampered by lack of protection from the ECU offensive line. But concerns are also beginning to emerge about the overall offensive scheme and how that may also be hampering the Pirates' ability to move the football. If the scheme were appreciably better than in the prior three years, it would likely be at least somewhat noticeable.
But so far, the ECU offense has been unimaginative to say the least and largely predictable. That is a recipe for concern. So it will be interesting to see what the Pirates have cooked up for this week in that regard.
First year ECU head coach Mike Houston was not pleased with his team's performance on Saturday at Navy and hopes to use this week to continue to improve and acclimate both offensively and on defense.
"Obviously I was disappointed with the outcome in Annapolis, Maryland this past weekend and it is what it is. I thought our kids had a decent week of preparation and went up there and we were not able to come back with the outcome that we wanted," Houston stated, "I was impressed with the Navy team and the development from last year. The quarterback play was the largest improvement in their program from last year but also the speed at which both sides of the football played on Saturday was very impressive."
"I think we faced a very quality American Athletic Conference team Saturday and obviously didn't get the things done we needed to in order to win," Houston said, "We have used that film over the weekend and we've taken the positives we can from that game and taken the corrections needed for the future from that game and spent time with that with the players and immediately got started with William & Mary. Obviously a huge ball game for our program this Saturday in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium."
Houston addressed the overall situation offensively on whether it is a matter of executing better or perhaps opening up the playbook a little more. The first year ECU head coach talked about his approach entering this week's encounter with the Tribe.
"Before you can do the latter you have got to do the former. If you don't execute better, nothing matters," Houston told PirateIllustrated.com, "You may be trying to open things up more, but you just have things where you're setting yourselves back. Whether it be the first play of the game you have a positive run. You're sitting there in second and six or seven and we have a false start. The reality is you end up in second and 13 and that's a tough down and distance."
"Later on in the ball game you're sitting there, you score and you have a procedure penalty pre-snap. You can't do those things and execute at a high level so we've got to make sure that we correct those mistakes if we're going to be effective. You've got to be able to drive the football in order to open the playbook up."
Houston says William & Mary is a tempo offense. They're going to move at a very fast pace. Communication is going to be important on defense in order to give them different looks.
Game time for ECU - William & Mary is set for 6 o'clock on ESPN 3 and Pirate Sports Network radio on Saturday in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.