East Carolina Spring Game: Defensive switch looks OK
GREENVILLE ó East Carolinaís defense looked lost last season, giving up chunks of yardage and a record-setting number of points to undermine the big totals put up by its own offense.
The Pirates are hoping a new defensive scheme will change that.
After moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 alignment, the defense held the offense to two scoring plays in 17 possessions during Saturdayís spring game. While starting quarterback Dominique Davis played just one series, it was a solid enough way for the unit to close the last major workout of offseason drills.
ìWe played with good leverage,î defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell said. ìWe didnít give up any deep balls, had few missed assignments, didnít miss a lot of tackles in open space ó and thatís what this defense is designed to do.î
More than anything, itís designed to get better results. East Carolina ranked as one of the nationís worst defenses last year, allowing 44 points and nearly 480 yards per game. Those struggles were more pronounced in the second half of the season, when the Pirates allowed the final six opponents to score at least 42 points ó including 76 in an ugly home loss to Navyís triple-option running attack ó and average 54 points.
In fact, the Pirates set an NCAA record by allowing 572 points, ending with the 51 by Maryland in the Military Bowl loss. With those totals, it didnít matter that East Carolina had one of the nationís top passing attacks that head coach Ruffin McNeill brought from his days as an assistant to Mike Leach at Texas Tech.
A year ago, the installation of that spread attack created a buzz that attracted curious fans to the spring game. This time, the defense was likely on the minds of the smaller crowd that braved windy, overcast conditions before the arrival of strong afternoon storms that swept through the state.
Mitchell said that the coaching staff believes that the switch means the Pirates ìhave guys that on two legs can make more plays than if we were to have another D-lineman on the field.î
ìOur kids played fast because weíre going to be very simple,î he said. ìIf we donít give up big plays and missed tackles, this defense is designed to make the ball go sideline to sideline, and you saw that quite a bit today.î
Davis played only the opening series, going 4-for-4 for 29 yards with a 3-yard scoring pass to Joe Womack. The Pirates rotated backup quarterbacks Brad Wornick, Rio Johnson, Shane Carden and Cody Keith the rest of the day, and the offense didnít score again until Johnson connected with Reese Wiggins for an 18-yard touchdown on the final completed drive of the game.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Jeremy Grove led the defense with seven tackles, while sophomore defensive end Derrell Johnson had a pair of sacks.
ìI think today we played a lot faster, but itís all still new,î defensive back Damon Magazu said. ìWeíre all still thinking and playing a little slower than weíd like to be.î
McNeill said the defense has worked almost entirely on its base package so far with only a few wrinkles mixed in. The coaches will have more to work with in the fall when linemen Michael Brooks, Robert Jones and Chrishon Rose, as well as outside linebackers Justin Dixon and Marke Powell, return from injuries that sidelined them for all or some of spring practice.
The Pirates may be without both starting linebacker Lamar McLendon (quit the team) and Leroy Vick, a projected starter on the defensive line who could miss the season with a knee injury.
ìOnly the tip of the iceberg is in on defense,î McNeill said. ìWe purposely went into spring just introducing them to the base package. Over the summer in two-a-days, weíll put more in and I think theyíll be excited to do that.î