This post continues our series previewing this weekend's game. Today we're talking about ECU's offense.
The main thing to note about ECU's offense is that it is again this year coordinated by Mike Leach discipline Lincoln Riley, who has instituted a productive Air Raid offense for the Pirates. In short, the Air Raid relies on short, quick passes. In a way, these passes are roughly analogous to running plays in a more run-oriented attack: ECU will use them to gain small chunks of yardage through which to build drives. Air Raid teams typically throw the ball more often than they run. Last week against Appy St., ECU threw the ball 43 times and ran the ball 35 times. That's actually a somewhat balanced ratio; last year when we played ECU, they threw the ball 56 times, rushing only 28, which is actually a somewhat more typical ratio for an Air Raid team. While generally relying on short passes, the Air Raid is not without big play potential. ECU will seek to draw us into expecting the short pass, only to try to catch us sleeping and to throw downfield a few times during the game. QB pump fakes, where the QB fakes a short throw and then looks long to a breaking receiver, are a common element of this approach.
The real key to keeping big plays from developing against an Air Raid offense, though, is that our linebackers and and especially our secondary have to tackle well. The Air Raid puts a lot of pressure on these players to tackle in space, and a missed tackle can create the opportunity for a speedy receiver to make a run downfield. This is a particular challenge for the secondary, which generally isn't asked to do as much tackling as it is against an Air Raid team. The Air Raid seeks to exploit the fact that many DBs aren't great tacklers.
The Pirates lost a few key players from last year's offense, including talented QB Dominique Davis. However, they looked good under new QB Rio Johnson in week one, racking up almost 400 offensive yards against ASU. This team is thoroughly capable of challenging our defense. The key, as said, will be our secondary. The group played decently last week, but when you think back to Brison Williams's whiff on Jordan Matthews's catch (looked like he was expecting to intercept the ball and neglected to play for the hit), or to Jimmy Legree being out of position once or twice, you're thinking precisely about the kinds of things ECU can exploit. It will be important for our guys to make it a priority, above all else, to play for the hit at the point of the catch. The good news is that despite the couple of hiccups, we have a physical secondary that isn't afraid to hit. I was also extremely impressed with the coverage work our experienced group of linebackers did against Vandy, and I think this will help us against ECU.
The last thing to note about the Air Raid is that it somewhat has the tendency to negate the play of a defensive line. Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor aren't going to get a lot of sack opportunities with ECU mostly doing three-step drops. However, they may have the opportunity to influence the game with tips and even interceptions. Their height will help them in this regard. You'll probably remember that Melvin Ingram had an INT against this team last year, and that Clowney tipped a ball that he almost caught after hitting it up into the air. Brad Lawing is undoubtedly coaching our linemen to do exactly this sort of thing in this game.