FOUR DOWNS: TULSA

GREENVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA — ECU produced a convincing 30-17 victory over AAC foe Tulsa Saturday. Summers sparked the offense, while the defense held Tulsa to no points through three quarters. Here are my four downs from Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on a homecoming Saturday.

FIRST DOWN: DEFENSE BOUNCES BACK

Just one week removed from allowing 45 points and 508 yards to BYU, the East Carolina defense responded in convincing fashion, allowing no points through three quarters and just 17 points in total to American Athletic Conference foe Tulsa Saturday.

In what many had predicted would be a high-scoring affair, the Pirate defense stymied and frustrated the Golden Hurricane offense from the very first drive when senior cornerback Josh Hawkins intercepted a Dane Evans touchdown pass attempt and returned it all the way back for a 100-yard pick six.

From there, the high-flying Tulsa offense found itself hapless against ECU’s defense until the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand. Evans never got comfortable in the pocket thanks to the Pirates sacking the sophomore four times, and he consistently missed open receivers. In fact, the game’s very first play from scrimmage was an Evans’ overthrow to an open receiver, signifying what would be either a game in which the Pirates secondary was once again exposed, or one in which Evans would struggle to find his touch.

It proved to be the latter and ECU had no problem exploiting it. Tulsa managed just 5.4 yards per play despite coming into the game ranked seventh in the nation in total offense.

The bounce back game was just what the Pirates needed going into conference play.

SECOND DOWN: SUMMERS SPARKS OFFENSE

Make no mistake; quarterback James Summers needed a good performance on Saturday.

He delivered just that thanks to his 11-of-16, 127-yard effort that both sparked the ECU offense and effectively outshined fellow signal caller Blake Kemp.

Kemp got the start thanks to Summers’ struggles last week to throw the ball but from the get-go something was missing from ECU’s offense against Tulsa. The first quarter ended with just one touchdown, coming from Hawkins on defense.

Enter Summers, whose running ability rivals that of ECU’s best running backs. Sure, he rushed for 58 yards and a touchdown but it was his performance through the air that allowed him to bounce back and have one of his bet performances of the season.

What Summers showed on Saturday was the exact opposite of what he showed against the Cougars. His patience in the pocket and vision downfield was much improved. Rather than crumble under the pass rush, Summers stood tall, eyed his receivers and delivered usually-catchable balls.

“I’m learning the playbook and the more I get comfortable the more I stand in the pocket,” said Summers. “I don’t really scramble in practice so that I can’t get used to being in the pocket during the game.”

The primary knock on Summers this season has been his lack of throwing ability and maybe his inability to read defenses. However, he took a positive step in the right direction, exploiting a less-than-stellar Tulsa team on his way to potentially locking down a starting job for Thursday’s game against Temple — not that starting the game matters at this point.

THIRD DOWN: GOING DEEP, FINDING SUCCESS

Former receivers Cam Worthy and Justin Hardy were standing on the sideline during the homecoming bout and for a second one might have thought that the two dynamic receivers brought the deep ball back with them.

The deep ball was indeed back but their familiar No. 2 and No. 7 jerseys weren’t on the receiving end of any of the passes. Rather, it was receivers Trevon Brown and Davon Grayson who were targeted on big plays.

In total, ECU had six passes go for 15 or more yards, including a first quarter end around pass by former high school quarterback Isaiah Jones to Grayson. Summers and Kemp also benefited from the athleticism of Brown and Grayson who more often than not bailed out their quarterbacks on 50-50 deep balls.

Three of Brown’s four catches went for more than 10 yards, and in total he hauled in 51 yards through the air. Grayson had four catches for 84 yards, including a long 34-yard catch. The duo has proven more than capable of picking up slack that has otherwise graduated.

FOURTH DOWN: BIGGER NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN IN CROWD

For years ECU’s linebackers have been the catalyst of the defense. This season is no different and a mixture of new faces and old heads has helped continue the trend.

Senior Zeek Bigger, a team captain and vocal leader, occupies a familiar spot atop ECU’s tackles list. However, flashy plays at critical moments have fleeted the senior this season and fellow linebackers Montese Overton, Jordan Williams and Yiannis Bowden have, at times, outshined Bigger.

Still, though, flashy plays and all, Bigger has continued to produce. Quietly or not, it’s no small task to find a game in which the senior, all-conference linebacker isn’t leading the team in tackles.

His 13 total tackles against Tulsa led the team, with Overton finishing at second with seven. He also led the team with one and a half sacks and one and a half tackles for a loss.

Perhaps the reason for his lack of splash in the first six games has been his injured hand. It has been, after all, wrapped in a cast until Saturday. Even with a banged up hand, Bigger still led the team, both statistically and emotionally.

Fans have gotten used to the senior willing his team to victory with a timely pick, sack or fumble. It has eluded him at times this season. But one look at the stat sheet after the game will prove his worth and it’s only a matter of time before a signature Bigger moment happens.


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