ECU football saw a tremendous second half comeback against UCF fall apart on a last-second hail mary Thursday night. While the Pirates should be applauded for sticking together and fighting back on their senior night, it’s hard to say they deserved coming that close to a win.
The Pirates played a terrible first half, for lack of a better word, and at the core of their struggles were penalties. The Pirates repeatedly shot themselves in the foot on offense and finished with 12 penalties for 127 yards getting back to a trend that was prevalent early in the season.
Offensively the team has to be better and it will start at the quarterback position. Carden had three turnovers against UCF, including two in the first half. In ECU’s bowl game coming up an effort like that won’t cut it and he knows that.
“I was playing poorly the whole first half (against UCF) and was getting down on myself,” said Carden. “The defense played great all night, but for me the first half was pretty poor. We also had a lot of penalties at crucial times and those hurt. We have been better at that these last couple of games, but not tonight.”
During the team’s final bye week of the season Head Coach Ruffin McNeill placed his emphasis on offensive penalties and for the most part the team answered the call in the Pirates’ games against Tulane and Tulsa. However, Thursday night against the UCF was a different story.
“We have done excellent the last few weeks on our penalties,” said McNeill after the heartbreaking loss. “Tonight was unusual for me and unusual for our kids because we worked hard on penalties and had officials at practice the past couple of weeks.”
McNeill did in fact have officials attend ECU’s practices during the open week to help his players learn what would be called. When the Pirates struggled midway through the season it was typically offensive with false starts and holding calls.
A fairly uncommon penalty that was called numerous times on the Pirates against the Knights was illegal hands to the face by the defense. Senior linebacker Brandon Williams is aware of the Pirates recent penalty struggles.
“Penalties have been big for us,” said Williams. “We have been committing a lot of penalties and in this game we had to tell everyone to stop tackling up high and start tackling down low in the second half.”
Junior linebacker Zeek Bigger added to William’s comments about penalties saying they simply can’t happen and the team must right the ship before the bowl game in that regard.
If ECU wants to have any shot to show the nation one last time how great this year’s team is, it will have to be done during the bowl game. While it’s likely the Pirates won’t face a ranked opponent in their bowl, mistakes like the ones against UCF will not lead to a bowl victory.
So which team will show up in the bowl game? The Pirate team that marched into Blacksburg, Va. and beat up on the Virginia Tech Hokies? The team that committed five turnovers against Temple and lost?
Only time will tell, but Ruffin McNeill and his staff have close to three weeks to make sure this team makes its last game together a resounding bowl victory. Double-digit penalties like the ones against UCF will be the fastest way for that dream to be shattered.