Pirate Defensive Mission Clear, Get Third Down Stops
With North Carolina coming to town this Saturday gunning for their first win of the season, ECU doesn't appear to have any major defensive personnel changes on tap.
David Blackwell's group looked solid for much of the game last week in the home opener against N.C. A&T give or take a few busts that let the Aggies off the hook. Blackwell hopes to shore that up for this week's encounter and continue the improvement that the Pirate defense exhibited overall.
"Overall we were 70 percent getting off the field on third down. That's our goal going into the game, 70 percent. That will put you top five in the nation if you can hold that all year," Blackwell said, "But there were two critical third downs where we did not get off the field. The bad part is they were third and extra long. Third and thirteen, third and eighteen and we busted and did not get off the field so that was the big negative."
The stats showed a marked improvement though defensively for ECU according to Blackwell.
"The first nine punts out of the first twelve possessions, we got six three-and-outs, those are very positive things," Blackwell said, "The reality of the thing is the three drives that were not three-and-outs and were not punts were the difference in the football game."
ECU enters the game 24th nationally in rush defense and 46th in pass defense after one game but it was the plays inside the twenty yard line that proved to be much of the difference last week.
"For us to get to where we want to get to as a defense and a coaching staff and for Coach Mo as a head coach, we need to win that game on defense on Saturday," said Blackwell, "At the end of the day we've got to make those plays and be better in the red zone. Their team was three for three in the red zone and we've got to get off the field and force field goals in the red zone."
"There were a lot of positives but we've got to win the football game and in a game like that for whatever reasons that it did, we've got to be able to put the team on our back and win a football game and not just be satisfied playing okay."
Junior nickelback Devon Sutton got acclimated last week and the junior knows the ECU secondary will be tested by UNC.
"I'm pretty comfortable back there. The last game it was good to be back out there after all the off season training," Sutton told PI, "We're still correcting some little mental mistakes and getting back in and getting everybody on the same page."
Last week's A&T matchup proved to be an adventure. This week ECU hopes to snap back and get one in the win column.
"They run the ball a lot so I think if we stop that we can be dominant in the game. Even though we're trying to regroup, we know our fans will be there for us. We know this game is going to be a huge game for us," Sutton said, "It's going to be a lot about momentum so we plan to get on that fast and attack that fast."
The UNC game is always a big game. There are going to be a lot of fans. We're just going to play hard, play fast. We're trying to make that an every game thing."
Nate Harvey made his presence known in his first start against N.C. A&T. The 6-1, 225 pound senior was physical and he blew up a lot of offensive plays with eight unassisted tackles from his defensive end position. After a trip or two to the ice tub and seeing the trainers, he says he feels a hundred percent coming into this week's game with North Carolina.
"Every week I want to make some noise with my teammates and get the W."
Last week at Cal, UNC ran for 164 and passed for just 137. They also had 13 penalties for 124 yards as a team. While UNC was just 4 of 17 on third down, they were 4 for 4 on fourth down, improving their percentage of keeping drives alive greatly. Harvey outlined the things that get his attention the most about the Tar Heels offensively.
"They've got a good running back. He's real tough. Their quarterback, he's real tough and number 17 at wide receiver is real good. You've got to key on those three to win the game," said Harvey, "Right now the coaches are preaching effort and hard work so that's what we're going to keep doing. Them being an in state rival is a little more for this one. It's like in-state bragging rights."
Both ECU and UNC enter this week's matchup after a loss on opening week so they will be looking for their first win of the season.
Game time is at 3:30 Saturday afternoon in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and the game will be televised on ESPN U.