Quarterback Shane Carden played lights out in the two games before this matchup with Navy; throwing for seven touchdowns, no interceptions and nearly 700 yards. Although, this past weekend was a different story. Carden by no means had a bad game, finishing 19 for 29 with 194 yards a touchdown and an interception, but his performance wasn't up to par with two previous. Navy's defense forced Carden to make tough throws all game and since the Pirate defense was unable to stop the Midshipmen, the offense had to put up points fast and they couldn't answer the call.
"It was tough seeing the defense get run on so much it hurts us as a team mentally," Carden said. "That can't be an excuse though, things like that are going to happen in a game and we have to be able to respond".
On a more positive note, the Pirate offense had their senior running back Reggie Bullock return Saturday. Bullock suffered a concussion against UTEP on September 29th, keeping him sidelined for the past four games. Carden and Bullock have only shared the field together three times, and it's apparent that the Pirate offense is breathing a sigh of relief to have Bullock return in time for their push towards a conference championship.
When asked about Bullock's return Carden responded, "We're glad to have him back; personally I'm happy because Reggie is a great friend of mine, it's good to see him healthy again and we can only get better having him out there with us."
This weekend the Pirates face conference opponent Houston at home, a team with a 3-1 conference record. "This game is another stepping stone towards our ultimate goal," Carden said. "We need to put this loss behind us and be ready to come out fired up on Saturday."
Bullock returns for the Pirates
The Pirate faithful were glad to see senior running back Reggie Bullock in the backfield this past weekend for the first time in four games, and Bullock wouldn't disappoint. While only rushing for thirty-seven yards on seven carries, Bullock found the end zone twice for the Pirates.
"It was emotional, I was just glad to finally be back out there with my team," Bullock said. "It was a long four weeks filled with a lot of hoping and praying, but I'm back now and ready to play my role."
Vintavious Cooper did the "dirty work" on the ground for the Pirate running game; chalking up 121 yards on 18 carries along with one touchdown. Cooper found a way to stay consistent in the ground game while Bullock was injured. "Vintavious is a great back and he really stepped up while I was out," Bullock said. "I'm excited to see where this running game can go now that we're both healthy."
Having played his first two collegiate seasons at Arizona Western Community College in Yuma, Arizona this will only be the second time Bullock will face Houston. "They beat us bad last year and more importantly we only scored three points; we're looking for a different outcome this year and are ready to have another shot at them this time in front of the Pirate Nation."
Elsawi anchors the offensive line
Led by junior left tackle Adhem Elsawi, the offensive line has been a consistent unit for the Pirates with the last two games being their most consistent. The numbers speak for themselves; the Pirate offense has scored six rushing touchdowns in their past two games matching their season total of six through the first seven games of the season. The offensive line plays the key role in any successful running game, and there is no question this unit has been performing at a high level.
Bullock's return brings back a dimension to this running attack that the Pirates have been missing since his injury. When asked to compare and contrast Bullock and Cooper, Elsawi went on to say, "Vintavious is more of a downhill runner, I see him picking up most of his yards after contact while Reggie is more of a finesse runner with great speed and shiftiness." No matter you describe it; Cooper and Bullock's different styles should pose a problem for future defenses.
Despite the running game playing well the Pirates were dominated by Navy in just about every other facet of the game. "We're over it," Elsawi said. "After the game Coach McNeil emphasized that we can't let this loss beat us twice; so we're out here focused on Houston and getting another conference win."
Winning solves everything; and for ECU a win this week could be the most important of the season. With their overall goal of a conference championship the Pirates need to bounce back. When asked how they'd do it Elsawi said, "We have to go out there and play our game plain and simple; it's a team sport, everyone has a job to do and as long as we remember that we'll be able to shake off this loss and can get back on track."
The offense was not stagnant this past weekend versus Navy, but they didn't connect on any of those big plays fans have grown accustom to seeing over the past couple of weeks. With that being said, the Pirates are still in good shape to make a run at the conference championship and possibly a bowl game. It all depends on the team at this point, as long as they get past this loss and focus on winning out they should be able to reach their goal. With Bullock's return, this offense should keep progressing and become even more of a force to be reckoned with but only time will tell. Kickoff from Dowdy-Ficklin will be at 12 p.m. this Saturday, look for a high scoring game with plenty of touchdowns.