Pirates hit the road for AAC bout with SMU

GREENVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA — ECU's second AAC contest stands in the form of a road matchup with the SMU Mustangs. The Mustangs (1-3) have dealt with an incredibly tough first four games while the Pirates (2-2) will look to impress following a victory over Virginia Tech.

East Carolina heads south to Dallas, Texas for a conference battle with the 1-3 Southern Methodist Mustangs Saturday.

GETTING TO KNOW THE OPPONENT The matchup, ECU’s second in conference this season, will feature two of the more spread-oriented offenses in the American Athletic Conference. However, SMU ranks first in the conference in time of possession, averaging 34:47 a game, while the Pirates (2-2) rank dead last with 26:22 per game.

The time of possession numbers serve as a head scratcher for most considering head coach Chad Morris’s dedication to the up-tempo attack that was so successful at Clemson, but his team has faced a daunting schedule thus far, including bouts with Baylor, TCU and No. 4 FCS school JMU — all losses. The potent offenses of each school exploited the Mustangs’ less than stellar defense in quick fashion and kept returning possession to the SMU offense which surely is more efficient when it can score quickly itself.

The Mustangs’ offensive attack is centered around dual threat quarterback Matt Davis. Davis leads the team in both passing and rushing and is a catalyst in terms of SMU’s offensive production so far.

His 99.2 rushing yards per game place him fifth in the conference and his four ground touchdowns help his case as one of the most dangerous signal callers in the conference. Then take into account that Davis has six additional touchdowns through the air with just two interceptions and all signs point to a stiff challenge for the ECU defense.

“I’m very concerned about the quarterback,” ECU defensive coordinator Rick Smith said of Davis. “He’s an absolutely great athlete. He could start for me in the secondary. He can run like a deer and containing him in the option game is tough. If we aren’t executing then I worry about him creasing us and getting into the secondary.”

The Pirates are no stranger to dual threat quarterbacks so far this season. Keenan Reynolds of Navy, Brenden Motley of Virginia Tech and Will Grier of Florida all represent dual threat signal callers that ECU has faced so far this season. Reynolds, of course, had the most success of the bunch but Davis brings something different to the table than the rest.

He has completed 63 percent of his passes and has attempted 108, but he doesn’t make costly mistakes, evident by his two interceptions. Also unlike the rest, Davis is unarguably the team’s most important player, without much of a supporting cast outside of receiver Courtland Sutton.

Defensively, SMU stands as one of the worst in the conference. The team ranks dead last in the AAC when it comes to stopping the run and is just one spot better at defending the pass. In fact, the Mustangs are allowing 603 yards per game.

However, it should be noted that high-scoring contests with superior teams Baylor and TCU have surely skewed the statistics and as conference play continues those numbers should at least become more fathomable.

With its 4-2-5 defensive alignment, SMU and defensive coordinator Van Malone have attempted to hide the yardage output with timely turnovers. The Mustangs rank first in the AAC with 12 forced turnovers, seven of which were interceptions. Six different SMU defenders have an interception and junior defensive back Horace Richardson leads the pack with two of his own. Still, though, the Mustangs have proven susceptible all around, something that was proven when JMU put up 48 on them last week.

Head coach Ruffin McNeill isn’t buying into the stats however, as was quick to refute the notion that the Mustangs have nothing to lose in the game. Rather, he said the team competed valiantly against tough competition and is surely better than the numbers say.

“They have a lot to lose,” McNeill said. “They played non-conference games and look at who they played. Chad (Morris) is a good football coach and that’s the only way I look at it and I watch the ball film. They’ve got a good team, a good quarterback and athletic skill positions. The offensive line has great pad level. They stretch you vertically and we have must have great prep this week.”

SUMMERS, KEMP TO SPLIT THE OFFENSE

McNeill made it very clear that there is no quarterback controversy on his hands. He’s probably right, but just as long as both James Summers and Blake Kemp keep playing well.

If one or the other begins to slip, however, he and offensive coordinator Dave Nichol will have to make a decision moving forward.

Still, though, the coaching staff has stated that both teams will be seeing significant action against SMU this weekend.

“We’ll keep using both of them,” McNeill said. “You have to learn in coaching that flexibility and being able to change is not a weakness, it’s a strength when you learn how to do it. We have this system, but also, we’re able to adjust to it and do what your guys do. It’s like a puzzle. You put the round peg in the round hole.”

Ideally, either Summers or Kemp will eventually take a strangle hold on the job due to exceptional play, but for now McNeill is fine with integrating both into practice and offense.

“I look at it as a great opportunity for our team,” he said. “You’ve got two really talented guys that play the position and do it a little bit differently. They make each other better with their abilities. We’ll continue to use them. They’re great teammates in the support of one another.”


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