There has been as much talk and excitement around football in the past ten days as there was just about all season here at Testudo Times. But between all that talk about Mike Leach and Ralph Friedgen, we've seemingly forgotten that Maryland's bowl game against ECU, coming this Wednesday, is just days away.
Even though the game doesn't technically mean much, it's worth knowing your opponent before heading into it, right? So it's First Look time.
The East Carolina Pirates were 6-6 on the season, spiralling in their final five games, where they went just 1-4. They did defeat N.C. State in Raleigh earlier in the year, but lost games to Rice and SMU late in the season.
The most interesting thing about ECU, at least as it relates to Maryland, is their offensive system. Their head coach, Ruffin McNeil, was Mike Leach's DC at Texas Tech; he hired many of TT's offensive staff, including current ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. Riley and McNeil kept Leach's Air Raid, so ECU's offense might be a nice preview of what Maryland may (or may not) expect in the future.
Unsurprisingly with that offense, they pass a lot. They're seventh in the nation in passing offense, 12th in scoring offense, and 23rd in total offense. Starting QB Dominique Davis, formerly at Boston College, is 4th in the country in yards/game, though his QB rating is more pedestrian (43rd in the country). He's a good fit for the Air Raid and puts up a lot of yards, and he can actually run the ball a little bit, too - he has 61 rushing attempts on the year when you take out the sacks, and is averaging 4.2 yards per carry with 9 TDs. He's one of the Pirates' most efficient running threats, so Maryland will probably need a spy to keep an eye on him.
They spread the ball around a lot at receiver, but there are two primary options: Dwayne Harris and Lance Lewis. Harris, a fast 6-0 senior, is the lead receiver and ranks 7th in the country in receptions. Lewis, a 6-3 junior, isn't far behind, and plays the role of possession receiver for the Pirates. Like most Air Raid offenses, they go pretty deep in the WR corps, so there are more names to know beyond these ones, but Harris and Lewis are by far the leading receivers.
Of course, they don't run the ball nearly as much, coming in at 91st in the country in rushing yards. It's a very successful attack given the number of carries - better than Maryland's, for example - but only 37% of their plays are runs - Maryland, as another example, runs on nearly 50% of their plays (though it really doesn't seem like it). That's not a terrible ratio, but this isn't a particularly balanced offense.
Like a lot of other Air Raid offenses, they don't give up a lot of sacks. That's always been kind of surprising and confusing to me because they pass so much, but I suppose the quick passes and decision-making has a lot to do with it. Despite passing on a solid 60+% of their plays and more than 200 times more than Maryland, they've given up only 13 sacks all season, tied for 19th best in the country. Maryland's defense blitzes a lot, as we all know, but they've had mixed success getting to the QB. I'm guessing it won't happen too much on Wednesday.
All in all, ECU has a pretty successful offense, and many of their point totals back that up. But their defense is awful, and one point total - giving up 76 to Navy, which Maryland held to 14 - should be enough to tell you that. They did hold Marshall to 10 points; other than that, their best defensive game was against N.C. State...which scored 27. They gave up more than 40 points a shocking nine times.
So armed with that knowledge, you won't be surprised to find out that ECU has one of the all-around worst defenses in the country. They're 118th in scoring defense - if you're wondering, there are only 120 teams in the FBS. They're 115th in rushing defense. They're 108th in passing defense. And to top it all off, they're dead last in total defense, coming in all the way down there at 120th.
Things don't look good even in the smaller statistics. They're 108th in sacks, for example. They're also 119th in 3rd down percentage. And in their strongest area, forcing turnovers, they're still below-average, coming in at 68th in the country. Maryland, of course, is 3rd in the nation in turnovers allowed, so I'm not all that worried in that area.
There's not a lot redeeming to be said about this bunch. One thing - and you can see how deep I'm reaching here - is that one of their most productive players is named after his position: the Pirates' starting outside linebacker and leading tackler is named Dustin Lineback. Just to be more "complete", I'll also mention Emanuel Davis, who is the starting CB and was a preseason All-CUSA pick.
Yep, that's all I got as far as the defense goes. Considering how much potential Maryland's offense has, I'm fully expecting them to get close to dropping 50.
If nothing else, this matchup should be plenty exciting and put up a lot of points. But I have much more confidence in Maryland's ability to stop to ECU's high-octane offense than the other way around.