A statement-making win for PiratesPublished 8:48pm Monday, November 5, 2012
GREENVILLE — Clinching bowl eligibility was nice. Doing it in convincing fashion was even better — and quite possibly a must.
After suffering a brutal 56-28 defeat at the hands of Navy two weeks ago several questions that have been lurking beneath the surface of the East Carolina football team rose to the air. On Saturday, the Pirates did their best to drown them out with a statement-making 48-28 victory over Houston that enabled them to clinch bowl eligibility for the sixth time in seven season.
Despite the fact that East Carolina (6-4, 5-1) entered the Navy game boasting the 32nd ranked run defense in the country — even though it had faced two of the premier running backs in the nation in Marcus Lattimore and Giovani Bernard — it was impossible not to have thoughts of the 2010 unit that finished last in the country in total defense while watching Midshipmen’s triple-option offense march up and down Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for 512 rushing yards and 32 first downs two weeks ago.
That performance intensified some peripheral questions that needed to be answered and on Saturday when the Pirates took the field to face Houston they responded.
Question No. 1: How would the ECU defense react one week after getting steamrolled like fresh pavement?
Answer: The Pirates defense showed a fighting spirit that surpassed even the most optimistic fan’s expectations as it held a Cougars offense that had been churning out 512 yards per contest to a 369 yards on the strength of a dominating performance by the front seven that surrendered a mere 28 rushing yards.
Ironically, that total was the least amount of rushing yards allowed by the Pirates since Dec. 5, 2009 when a C.J. Wilson, Linval Joseph-led unit held Houston to 30 in the C-USA title game.
Question No. 2: Would a cast of receivers that received high praise in the preseason step up?
Answer: The Pirates scored 48 points against Houston and none of them were produced by standout WR Justin Hardy. Sophomore Danny Webster broke out of his scoreless slump in a big way by catching three touchdown passes, while junior Reese Wiggins also crossed the goal line for the first time this season.
To be fair to the receiving corps, having to go through an early season QB shuffle no doubt delayed chemistry building, but by watching Shane Carden complete passes to nine different players on Saturday it appears that the adjustment period has come to an end.
Question No. 3: How would the Pirates players react as the temperature under head coach Ruffin McNeill’s seat kicked up a notch?
Answer: East Carolina didn’t just come out and beat Houston, it stormed the Cougars from the opening kickoff. Offensively, the Pirates scored on four of their six first-half possessions, while on defense they forced Houston to punt on its first five drives of the game.
Both units cooled off as the game went on, but that fiery start spoke volumes about Purple and Gold pride.