Preview 2017: East Carolina Pirates
Previewing and looking ahead at the East Carolina season – and what you need to know.
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What You Need To Know About The East Carolina Offense
Offensive coordinator Tony Peterson knows how to crank up dangerous passing games, and last year’s did just that with the sixth-best air attack in the country, with WR Zay Jones coming up with an all-time great season.
Jones is gone, and so are four other starters from the group that couldn’t run a lick, but threw without a problem.
The big question mark is quarterback, with Gardner Minshew stepping in late last season, but now needing to hold off Duke transfer Thomas Sirk – it’s Sirk’s gig if he’s past the Achilles tendon injury that knocked him out last year.
It’ll be a running back by committee situation, but it would be nice if one back could step up from the pack and take the pressure off, otherwise, Sirk might turn into the team’s leading rusher.
Three starters are back up front including both tackles, Brandon Smith and Messiah Rice, from a group that allowed 31 sacks and struggled in the running game.
Biggest Key To The East Carolina Offense
Find that running game. Again, the production might come from the quarterback, but no matter what there has to be some sort of production from a ground attack that hit the 200-yard mark twice – once was against Western Carolina – and failed to hit 100 yards four times.
The passing attack is always going to be the main mode of transportation in this offense, but at the very least, the ground game needs to average more than four yards per carry. It didn’t do that over the last two years.
What You Need To Know About The East Carolina Defense
Can defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson get his group to make a meaningful stop at some point? The Pirates will got to a 4-2-5 alignment to take advantage of the experience in the secondary, but now the production has to come.
ECU finished 100th in the nation defensively, getting worse as the season went on getting bombed over the final months for 203 points over the last four games – all losses.
Three of the top four tacklers are done, but Jordan Williams is a good veteran linebacker to rely on. Seven starters in all return to the D, including the defensive tackles and three starters in the secondary. And now, there’s actually sone decent depth compared to last season. But where are the playmakers?
ECU needs to be more aggressive, needs to generate more takeaways – more on that in a moment – and has to be night-and-day better on third downs. That means …
Biggest Key To The East Carolina Defense
A sack, here and there, would be a plus. The Pirates didn’t generate any semblance of pressure throughout last season with just eight measly sacks, with six coming in a three-game stretch and four against UConn. The D generated just one sack in the first seven games, and none in the final two after coming up with 25 the year before.
East Carolina Will Be Far Better If …
The defense eventually comes up with a takeaway. A decent punt return would be nice, and a running game would help, but nothing matters if ECU is among the nation’s worst teams in turnover margin again.
-16 on the season, the offense had a few miserable days – with five giveaways against UCF and SMU, and four against South Carolina – but for the most part, it wasn’t horrible at hanging on to the ball.
The D, though, came up with eight takeaways on the season, and three came against UConn and two more against UCF. The Pirates went seven games without forcing a turnover including the final four.
Best East Carolina Offensive Player
QB Thomas Sirk, Sr. – Okay, so he’s not even a sure-thing to take the starting job with a few other decent quarterback options in place, and he has to prove he’s back from an Achilles tendon injury, but if he’s right, the graduate transfer from Duke is a difference-maker.
At 6-4 and 220 pounds, he’s got great size and good enough all-around skills – when he’s healthy. Two years ago he hit 59% of his throws for 2,625 yards and 16 touchdowns with eight picks, with 803 rushing yards and eight scores.
2. WR Jimmy Williams, Sr.
3. WR Quay Johnson, Sr.
4. QB Gardner Minshew, Jr.
5. C/OG Garrett McGhin, Jr.
Best East Carolina Defensive Player
LB Jordan Williams, Sr. – The team’s leading tackler, the 6-0, 234-pound outside former walk-on is a workout warrior with great toughness and good quickness, but he needs to get into the backfield more.
He only came up with one sack and four tackles for loss, but he cranked up 77 tackles, maxed out with 12 against SMU. With his experience, now he has to start making a few bigger plays.
2. S Travon Simmons, Sr.
3. CB Colby Gore, Soph.
4. DE Kendall Futrell, Soph.
5. CB Corey Seargent, Jr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
RB Devin Anderson, Jr. Or Tennessee transfer Derrell Scott. Or redshirt freshman Hussein Howe. Or anyone who can try giving the Pirates some semblance of a ground game. The quarterback spot – assuming that’s Thomas Sirk – will help, but the 5-9, 208 pound Anderson has to do more to carry the load after running for 258 yards and two scores. Or, Scott might be too good to hold out of the rotation, bringing decent power and good toughness to an attack that ran for just 110 yards per game.
The East Carolina Season Will Be A Success If …
It’s a six-win season. – It’s going to be really, really tough to double the win total from last year against a brutal schedule that’s not remotely easy over the first two months, and has five games in November.
If ECU is going to be bowl-game good, it has to beat James Madison to start, take advantage of playing four home games in the first five dates, and come up with several upsets along the way.
Key Game To The East Carolina Season
Sept. 30 vs. South Florida – It’s not going to be an easy first half of the season. James Madison isn’t a lock in the opener, and then with trips to West Virginia, UCF and Houston before November, and home dates against Virginia Tech, Temple and BYU, where’s the sure-thing win?
USF should be one of the league’s biggest stars again, but it’s the American Athletic opener at home. If the Pirates are going to make a big statement this season, it has to start here.
2016 East Carolina Fun Stats
– Interceptions Thrown: East Carolina 12 – Opponents 5
– Sacks: Opponents 31 for 222 yards – Opponents 8 for 47 yards
– Fumbles: East Carolina 24 (lost 12) – Opponents 8 (lost 3)