East Carolina vs. NC State Football Preview
Pirates look to defeat in-state rivals
Date: Saturday, October 20th
ECU vs. NC State General Overview
The series between East Carolina and NC State has been dubbed “The Backyard Brawl,” but only one of the 24 games in the series between the intra-state rivals has been played in Greenville. However, the Pirates have more than held their own against the Wolfpack. After struggling early in the series, ECU has now won five of the last seven and seven of the last 11.
Last season, Skip Holtz and his Pirates picked up their seventh win when they notched a 21-16 victory over lame duck coach Chuck Amato’s Wolfpack in the regular season finale’ in Raleigh.
This year’s match-up features two teams that appear to be headed in different directions.
After struggling to a 1-3 start against a strong schedule that featured trips to Virginia Tech and West Virginia, East Carolina has rebounded to collect three consecutive CUSA wins over what should be upper echelon league competition in Houston, UCF and UTEP. The Pirates have scored 134 points during this stretch, but have also surrendered 115. At any rate, ECU is currently sitting atop CUSA’s East Division by one half game over Southern Miss in what has been a “wacky WAC” type year in league play to date. It is coming off a thrilling 45-42 overtime win at UTEP in which it tied the game on a 34-yard touchdown pass as time expired.
Despite being projected by most preseason prognosticators to finish last in the Atlantic Division of the ACC, NC State’s struggles have been more severe than expected under first year head coach Tom O’Brien.
The Wolfpack, who have suffered their share of key injuries, have literally limped to a 1-5 start with their lone victory being a 38-17 triumph over FCS (I-AA) foe Wofford in their third game of the season. NCSU’s home losses have come against UCF (25-23), Clemson (42-20) and Louisville (29-10) while they’ve dropped road contests at now No. 3 Boston College (37-17) and Florida State (27-10).
However, the battered Pack should be as healthy as they’ve been in sometime for the ECU game as they’re coming off of a desperately needed open date.
Regardless of their health, NCSU must play more sound football in order to win according to the strict disciplinarian O’Brien.
NC State Offense vs. East Carolina Defense
Advantage: East Carolina
Give the Pirate defense, which is surrendering a boatload of points and over 464 yards per game, a slight advantage in this match-up, as they will be facing a NC State offense that has been largely unproductive—19.7 points and 316.3 yards.
The Pack’s struggles have stemmed largely from injuries to key contributors and poor quarterback play. Prior to the season, NCSU lost all-star tight end Anthony Hill. Since, running backs Toney Baker and Andre Brown—a tandem which has produced the bulk of the ground yards over the past couple seasons—have sustained season-ending injuries also.
Brown, who broke his foot in the Pack’s last game at Florida State, was leading the team in rushing (with 438 yards) and scoring (30 points) while also being tied for second on the team in receiving with 20 receptions for 169 yards.
As a result, redshirt sophomore Jamelle Eugene will now get the bulk of the carries in the NC State ground game. Eugene is very capable, as he mustered 101 yards on only 14 carries against the Seminoles. Like Brown, he is also a threat in the passing game and has caught 14 balls for 80 yards.
2006 starter Daniel Evans began the year under center, but was replaced in the second game by Nebraska transfer Harrison Beck. Beck, who is 77-of-144 for 831 yards with two touchdowns, has thrown nine interceptions and has missed the last two games due to a separated shoulder.
Evans got the starting nod against FSU, but he has also failed to protect the football. He completed 19-32 for 172 yards against the Seminoles, but also threw three costly interceptions.
Redshirt freshman Justin Burke, who has seen only mop up duty this season, could also see playing time.
Up front, the line has had its share of struggles as well. They surrendered six sacks against FSU (15 on the season) and the Wolfpack is only averaging 99 yards on the ground.
The Wolfpack’s top playmaker is wideout Darrell Blackman, who has 20 receptions for 279 yards. Their leading receiver is John Dunlap. Dunlap has caught 26 balls for 250 yards and two scores. Former quarterback and current tight end Marcus Stone has also established himself as a threat (14 receptions for 160 yards) despite battling injuries.
Defensively, the Pirates have been forced to rely heavily on turnovers and they’ve been on the receiving end of 19 miscues (nine interceptions and ten fumble recoveries). ECU is giving up nearly 135 more yards than last season, which has been largely the result of an inexperienced secondary and poor tackling in the open field. The Pirates are allowing 158 yards per game on the ground, but that is bit misleading as a result of the WVU game. However, opponents are throwing for 306 yards per game. This number could be even larger if it weren’t for the improved pass rush that has registered 18 sacks.
C.J. Wilson and Zack Slate have played a large role increasing the heat on opposing quarterbacks, as they have four and three sacks, respectively.
Safety Van Eskeridge, who returned a fumble 50 yards for a touchdown against UTEP, leads the team with 59 stops.
Linebackers Pierre Bell and Quentin Cotton are both battling shoulder injuries and are at least questionable for the game. Bell made nine stops and forced a fumble against the Miners while Cotton did not make the trip.
Against UTEP, the Pirates gave up 589 yards of offense, but were once again saved by forcing three turnovers and getting some stops at critical junctures. They won’t have nearly as many playmakers to contend with against NCSU.
East Carolina Offense vs. NC State Defense
Advantage: East Carolina
Offensively, East Carolina produced 507 yards of total offense in its 45-42 overtime win against UTEP. However, the Pirates did commit a season-high four turnovers—which included a couple picks inside the red zone—and were forced to settle for field goals of 28 and 24 yards.
Quarterback Rob Kass completed 18 of his 32 attempts for 219 yards and the game-tying score with no time left on the clock; however, he was also picked off three times and two of those squandered possible scoring threats. The first interception was the result of a poor decision just before the half while the other two were simply poor throws—one on a fade and the other on an out route.
Chris Johnson had his third straight solid game running the football. The senior speedster finished the night with 126 yards on 23 carries against the Miners.
Jamar Bryant had a breakout performance against UTEP, as he hauled in seven balls for 133 yards. A bulk of those yards came when Dwayne Harris hit him for an 80-yard touchdown on a reverse pass. He leads ECU with 25 receptions for 361 yards and two scores.
The Pirates try to get the ball in Dwayne Harris’ hands in a variety of ways. In addition to throwing the 80-yard touchdown pass, Harris had two receptions for 30 yards and two carries for 66 yards—which included a 57-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep play in the third quarter. The redshirt freshman has caught 11 passes for 129 yards and two scores. He has also been known to take a direct snap and run the Pirates’ spread read option package.
ECU also seems to be making a more conscious effort to get tight end Davon Drew involved in the passing game. Drew, who caught the pass that set up the game-winning touchdown against UTEP, has 13 receptions for 133 yards and two scores this season.
The Pirates will face a NC State defense that is giving up 419 yards per game—including a whopping 226.5 on the ground. The Wolfpack have been banged up along the defensive front, which has forced coordinator Mike Archer to play some freshmen and walk-ons. However, they should be as healthy as they’ve been in a while following this past week’s open date.
The unit has not been able to force turnovers, as the Pack has only managed five takeaways (three fumbles, two interceptions) all season. All three fumbles came in the Wofford win; therefore, NCSU opponents have only turned the ball over twice in the other five contests.
On the other hand, NC State has done an excellent job of getting off the field on third down and clamping down in the red zone. The opposition has only converted 34 percent of their third downs and the Wolfpack have held opponents without touchdowns on 14 of their 26 trips inside the NCSU red zone.
Linebacker Ernest Jones leads the team with 51 tackles. Defensive linemen Antoine Holmes and Willie Young, as well as linebacker LeRue Rumph are tied for the team lead with four tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Holmes also leads the Pack with two of the team’s only eight sacks. Defensive tackle DeMario Pressley may help the NCSU front produce more against NCSU. He appears to be working his way back from an ankle injury that has minimized his effectiveness through the first six games.
The secondary is headlined by senior safety Miguel Scott, who is third on the team with 35 tackles and first with four pass break-ups.
Advantage: NC State
Give the Pack an edge in the kicking game due to the fact they’ve covered kickoffs and punts better than the Pirates have.
NCSU kickoff specialist Steven Hauschka, who also handles the field goals, is averaging 64.3 yards per attempt and has six touchbacks. The coverage team has limited opponents to 23.5 yards per return. Hauschka is a perfect 5-of-5 on field goals with a long of 49.
Punter Bradley Pierson is only averaging 36.3 yards per boot, but has forced 11 fair catches and has pinned the opposition inside their own 20 yard line on ten occasions. The Pack is only giving up 2.7 yards per return. They will need another solid outing in this one, as ECU’s Dwayne Harris possesses power, shiftiness and speed. Harris is averaging 7.7 yards on 13 returns and had a season long of 46 yards against the Miners last week.
They will be challenged this weekend, as they will attempt to slow down East Carolina’s Chris Johnson. Johnson averages 31 yards per return and took one 96 yards for a score against UCF two weeks ago.
The Pirates’ kickoff and punt coverage has not been nearly as solid. They have allowed three returns for scores (two kickoffs and one punt). Low kicks, but particularly punts have hurt coverage. Punter Matt Dodge is averaging 42.6 yards, but his net is only 33. Therefore, don’t be surprised if ECU kicks away from the explosive Darrell Blackman, who is averaging 24.5 yards per kickoff return and 13.8 on punts. He took a kickoff 99 yards to the house against Clemson.
Placekicker Ben Hartman has been inconsistent, but had his best game to date at UTEP. The sophomore connected on all three of his field goal attempts—which included a career long of 52—and is now 7-of-12 on the year.
Against UTEP, the Pirates blocked an extra point that Travis Williams returned for two crucial points just before halftime.
Advantage: East Carolina
While East Carolina hasn’t exactly been playing perfectly, they have been playing well enough to find a way to defeat three pretty good football teams the last three weeks. They’ve trailed at the half in all three games before exploding in the second half, as they’ve been a third quarter team all season long.
Skip Holtz has stated that he feels good about how his team handled the intangibles against UTEP. Against NCSU, they will also have the home crowd behind them. Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium has been rockin’ for all three home games and this will likely be the most intense and loudest atmosphere to date.
Conversely, NC State is still learning how to win. The Wolfpack have dropped 12 straight games against Division I-A (or Bowl Subdivision) competition.
While the Pack did have the advantage of not playing this past weekend while the Pirates traveled nearly 4,000 miles round trip to play at UTEP, expect both teams to be prepared for this intra-state rivalry that matches teams from 77 miles apart.
NC State will be seeking to avenge last season’s 21-16 loss.
Final ECU vs. NC State Prediction
East Carolina opened the week a four-point favorite over NC State. Despite their 1-5 record, this could be the most difficult game remaining on the Pirates’ schedule. The Wolfpack have some talent, but are still attempting to find their stride under first year head coach Tom O’Brien.
For NCSU to win, they must win the turnover battle—something they’ve struggled mightily with this season as they’re minus 17 (22 giveaways to only 5 takeaways). They must also get big days from Jamelle Eugene and Darrell Blackman, who are their top two play-making threats.
On the other hand, that is a prime cause of East Carolina’s success. The Pirates have taken the football away 19 times while only committing nine turnovers. This has allowed them to overcome some defensive deficiencies. If this trend continues and the Pirate defensive front forces the Wolfpack to go to the air, ECU should win this football game. NC State’s offense doesn’t possess the potency of UTEP or Houston and an improved Pirate pass rush should be able to put heat on the Pack’s Daniel Evans (or other quarterbacks).
NC State will hang around for awhile, but East Carolina will show “no quarter” in the second half and pull away for their fifth win of the season.
East Carolina 30 - NC State 17