This post begins a series checking in on next season's opponents. The goal is to have gathered useful information about each opponent prior to the beginning of the season. Today, we're talking about the East Carolina Pirates.
After winning nine games in each of Skip Holtz's final two seasons, the Pirates took a step back last year under new coach Ruffin McNeil, going 6-7 and losing to Maryland in a blowout in the Military Bowl. The Pirates opened the season fairly successfully, winning games against Conference USA stalwarts Tulsa and Southern Miss, beating a good N.C. State team, and working their way to 5-2. However, things fell apart quickly at that point, as ECU struggled to perform down the stretch and lost five of its last six.
The Pirates' key losses include four of five starters on the offensive line, leading receiver Dwayne Harris, and the team's top two linebackers.
McNeil came to ECU from Texas Tech, where he coached under Mike Leach, and he has instituted Leach's Air Raid at ECU to great success, as the Pirates fielded a prolific offense last season, led by returning senior QB Dominique Davis, who threw for nearly 4000 yards last season. ECU returns a talented group of receivers who will help Davis reproduce ECU's offensive success. Replacing the graduate offensive linemen is the biggest question mark.
Although McNeil was a defensive coordinator at Texas Tech and had a lot of success in Lubbock improving the Red Raiders' defense, his first defense at ECU failed miserably, often giving up 40 and 50 points per game and ranking dead last in the nation in total defense. The Pirates return some talent on the defensive line and cornerback but have some spots to fill at linebacker and safety. In addition to improving on equally horrible numbers against the run and the pass, the Pirates will look to create more big plays on defense, as they were also one of the nation's worst in turnover ratio and tackles for loss.
Keep reading after the jump.
This is an OOC game against a team Carolina should be able to handle without too much trouble, so it's not a hugely important game in terms of this season. I'd compare it to last season's game against Southern Miss., with the difference being that we should be heading into the game with less uncertainty than we had last year. East Carolina is a team with a bit of a history of knocking off major competition (remember their big win against Virginia Tech a while back?), but they're not at their best right now, and if we're anywhere near as good as we're supposed to be, we shouldn't have any trouble with them.
If everything goes as planned in that regard, the main thing I'll be interested in seeing in this game is how our secondary plays. ECU is a fairly adept passing team, and it will provide an early test for our maligned pass defense. If the defense can clamp down on ECU's passing game and hold the Pirates to under 20, that will a sign of success.
One interesting thing about the game is that it's being played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Therefore, this game is a good opportunity for the Gamecocks to put on a good showing in an area that we'd like to be able to recruit more effectively. With UNC possibly on the outs due to the possibility of impending sanctions, this is a good time to work our way into the good graces of the NC recruiting circles.