This post begins ECU Week here at GABA. For those of you who weren't here last here, in the typical leadup to a game, you'll see an analysis of the opposing defense, one of the offense, and then a general preview with predictions. There may also be other material focused on a game, such as various opinion pieces or collaborations with blogs covering the opposing team.
So, without further ado, let's talk about ECU's defense.
ECU's defense is without a doubt its weakness. The Pirates ranked dead last last season in total defense and near the bottom in all other major categories. With a lot of personnel turnover and question marks at a lot of positions, it's unclear whether or not this unit will improve significantly in 2011. Some improvement is almost assured, considering that ECU has nowhere to go but up; however, it's going to take a lot more than "some improvement" for this unit to get remotely near where it needs to be.
That said, don't expect for this to be as bad as the defense Navy saw last year when it rung up 76 points on the Pirates. ECU suffered a lot of defensive injuries last year. Those injuries decimated its performance late in the season. Early on, ECU was bad, but not historically bad. We'll be seeing a relatively healthy team this Saturday, one that should be a bit more capable than what ECU had late last year.
ECU is without its best defensive player, CB Emanuel Davis. Davis is a two-time All-CUSA selection who was expected to lock horns with Alshon Jeffery. Without him, that unenviable task will go to a much-less proven member of the team.
Change of philosophies. After giving up shocking numbers of yards and points, particularly over the latter half of last season, Pirates coach Ruffin McNeil knew that change was needed. McNeil retained beleaguered defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell, but only after Mitchell proactively decided to change defensive alignments from a 4-3 to a 3-4.
If ECU becomes proficient in executing it, this package will benefit the Pirates against USC. With one of the linemen replaced by a linebacker, ECU will have more speed on the field. If its linebackers and secondary play good assignment football, that extra linebacker should mean less big plays for Carolina, particularly when Carolina attempts to spread the field with its collection of speedy receivers. That's not to say that we won't get our yards, particularly with Marcus Lattimore here to soften up ECU's middle; it's just to say that ECU hopes this scheme will help it keep us from turning this game into a track meet.
Pass rush? The key to shutting down South Carolina's offense, same as it was last year, is to place pressure on Stephen Garcia. ECU was unable to generate a significant pass rush last year, and I would look for it to get creative with blitzes if it hopes to against Carolina. If ECU allows Garcia plenty of time to make his throws, we'll likely score a lot of points. Carolina will look to use Lattimore to buy Garcia time. However, if that doesn't work, ECU may be able to force Garcia to make some key mistakes.