View from the East
Friday, May 4, 2012
By Al Myatt
wary eye on 2012 opponents
A Look at the Foes:
Part II of IV
All rights reserved.
We continue to examine the
state of football programs which East Carolina will match up with during
the 2012 season. Last week, we looked at the first three opponents —
Appalachian State, South Carolina and Southern Miss.
The next three games next
season put the Pirates at North Carolina on Sept. 22, at home against
Texas-El Paso on Sept. 29 and at Central Florida on Thursday, Oct. 4,
for a televised contest.
If the Pirate Nation were
to be surveyed, the pending clash in Chapel Hill would probably get the
highest priority in terms of fan interest. ECU's growth academically and
athletically has seemingly been challenged at every point by the UNC-Chapel
Hill interests in the state university system power structure. That
translates into a deep-rooted rivalry from the Pirates' standpoint.
The Tar Heels are coming
off a sordid chapter in their football history. Improper benefits to
players and academic fraud resulted in NCAA penalties that will reduce
scholarships and keep the Heels home during bowl season in 2012.
North Carolina dismissed
Butch Davis as coach and after a mediocre season under caretaker Everett
Withers, new athletic director Bubba Cunningham plucked Larry Fedora
from Southern Miss as the football hire.
ECU will play Fedora's old
and new programs in successive weeks.
ECU at North Carolina,
Coaching transitions such
as the one in Chapel Hill inevitably steepen the learning curve in
spring workouts. The coaches have to learn and evaluate personnel while
teaching new schemes. The potentially-cumbersome process wasn't designed
to proceed slowly in Chapel Hill.
Fedora sought to literally
fast forward the Heels in spring practice, demanding a quicker pace to
workouts. Apart from the obvious factor of getting more done within a
defined time frame which limits spring workouts to 15 sessions, Fedora's
offense is based on creating a tempo that wears defenses down.
Not only is the offense
designed to be fast, the Heels desire to be diverse. They'll spread it
out and throw it around but they also plan to be able to line up with a
power running game.
The speed emphasis
probably had a beneficial side effect in terms of snapping returning
players out of a funk that had manifested itself in apparent
indifference during a 41-24 Independence Bowl loss to Missouri.
Like most good offensive
coordinators, Blake Anderson's goal is to keep defenses off balance.
Returning quarterback Bryn
Renner said it took some time for players to grasp the speed with which
Fedora wanted to operate but when they did the Heels reeled off 170
snaps in one scrimmage.
Fedora expressed concerns
about depth across the board after spring workouts. At least there were
no transfers out of the program after the new staff arrived, a sign of
commitment by the players despite the postseason ban.
North Carolina defeated
the host Pirates 35-20 last season. ECU contributed to its own demise
with mistakes that helped the Tar Heels build a 28-3 halftime lead. The
Pirates finished with a 490-456 lead in total yardage but four turnovers
to none for the Tar Heels proved decisive. ECU drew six penalties while
the Heels were flagged once.
North Carolina was playing
well at the time of its trip to Greenville. It marked the fourth win in
a 5-1 start. A 30-24 loss at home to Miami two weeks later started a
slide that resulted in losses in five of the last seven games.
The 2012 season could
produce a contrasting pattern since it may take the Heels some time to
come together under the new boss.
North Carolina will
represent the third consecutive road game for ECU, a scenario that
produced a 38-35 win for the Pirates at Navy last season and a 44-43
victory at Southern Miss in 2010.
Texas-El Paso at ECU,
Miners coach Mike Price
remembered his first trip to Greenville at the Conference USA media
kickoff last summer in Memphis.
"We had trouble finding
it," he said. "Then we were sorry we did."
ECU won that encounter
53-21 and topped Tulsa 27-24 the following week for its first C-USA
UTEP hosted the Pirates in
Game 10 last season and took a 22-17 win on Joe Banyard's 77-yard run
midway through the fourth quarter. ECU had come back from a 16-7 deficit
at the half to take a 17-16 lead before Banyard sprinted into the second
level of the Pirates' defense and outran pursuit. The Miners totaled 241
yards rushing as Banyard's big play helped him to 140 yards on 18
carries for the night.
Banyard, who ran for 832
yards last season, has graduated but Nathan Jeffery gave indications in
the UTEP spring game of being a heavy duty back as he gained 122 yards
on 18 rushes. That's even more impressive considering that Jeffery was
running behind an offensive line that had four starters out. The Miners
also showed signs of offensive diversity as 12 different receivers
Returning quarterback Nick
Lamaison passed for 1,718 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior.
One challenge that may
confront the Pirates is avoiding a post-North Carolina letdown. The week
after the game with the Heels last season, ECU was torched 56-3 by Case
Keenum and Houston.
The schedule will surely
be a factor for UTEP. The Miners open at home against Oklahoma and visit
Ole Miss the second week. UTEP travels to Wisconsin the week before
Price makes his second trip to Greenville. The physicality of the
Badgers could work to the Pirates' advantage.
ECU at Central Florida,
Oct. 4 (Thursday night)
Handling a short week will
be a crucial factor for both programs in this made-for-TV matchup. The
Knights host Missouri the Saturday before opening their last Conference
USA campaign against the Pirates. UCF has a date at Ohio State the
second week of the season.
Blake Bortles completed 27
of 45 passes in the spring game for 239 yards and a touchdown. Coach
George O'Leary has said that the 2012 edition reminds him of the 2010
C-USA champions, who got their school record 11th win in the Liberty
There is motivation within
the program to atone for a 5-7 season in 2011. The Knights were 3-5 in
A 38-31 loss in Greenville
on ECU's Senior Night accounted for one of UCF's setbacks last season.
The game was decided on a 56-yard touchdown run by Torrance Hunt of the
Pirates with 2:10 left to play.
Bortles will give the
Knights a valuable degree of experience at quarterback going forward. He
completed 75 of 110 passes last season for 958 yards with six scores and
three picks. He lacks the running ability of Jeff Godfrey, who got the
majority of snaps last season. The pair virtually split the playing time
at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium last Nov. 19.
Bortles was intercepted by
ECU's Damon Magazu in the end zone with 1:04 left to preserve the lead
generated by Hunt's lengthy scamper.
Location has had little
impact on the Pirates' domination in the series. The Pirates are 6-1 in
Greenville against the Knights and 3-1 in Orlando. UCF's lone win at
home against ECU came in 2010 when a 49-35 victory kept the Knights on
course for the league title in Ruffin McNeill's first season as head
The UCF venture will be
the first Thursday night game for the Pirates since a 54-42 win at
Alabama-Birmingham on Nov. 11, 2010, made ECU bowl eligible.
E-mail Al Myatt
05/11/12 01:51 AM.