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FOUR DOWNS: ECU lost to UConn

ECU (4-5, 2-3 AAC) lost to UConn, 31-13 Friday on the road. Here are my four downs from the loss.

FIRST DOWN: SUMMERS NOT THE ANSWER

For the first time since James Summers got into the mix, head coach Ruffin McNeill started the quarterback that didn’t finish the previous game.

Summers got the call against Connecticut despite lasting just two drives in the team’s loss to Temple the week before. The gamble by the coaching clearly backfired and Summers finished just 12-of-21 for 105 yards in a 31-13 loss to the Huskies.

The decision to start Summers wasn’t necessarily the issue. After all, it’s almost become a coin flip to see who out-performs who. However, it was the longest a quarterback has started since Kemp was replaced as the full-time starter in Week 3.

Summers played through most of three quarters, didn’t orchestrate a scoring drive, got intercepted, and overall failed to threaten the Husky defense. He took hit after hit, was sacked three times and couldn’t get any momentum on the ground or through the air.

Kemp finally got the call at the end of the third quarter but at that point the score was 17-6, the offense was sputtering, and UConn was settling in on both sides of the ball. The junior Kemp promptly through an interception on his second pass attempt and was later intercepted while trying to mount a comeback. He finished 7-of-11 with 50 yards, a rushing touchdown and three interceptions.

In short, nothing went right on offense for ECU. Summers clearly isn’t capable of leading the Pirate offense and while Kemp may be mistake prone at times, it seems like he may be the right fit.

And who knows, perhaps if Kemp starts and has time to settle in, the offense might resemble what McNeill envisioned.

 SECOND DOWN: MCNEILL AND COMPANY OUTCOACHED

 As a disclaimer, I thoroughly believe that McNeill and his assistants are a fine group of coaches that have done tremendously well revitalizing the program.

 That being said, the Pirates coaches didn’t show the above sentiment against UConn.

Dave Nichol’s offensive strategy failed to create much of anything against the Huskies impressive defense. Defensive coordinator Rick Smith couldn’t find any answers for UConn’s quarterback-running back duo of Bryant Sherriffs and Arkeel Newsome. The duo combined for 365 total yards and four touchdowns.

UConn headman Bob Diaco flexed his defensive prowess and forced four Pirate turnovers. His offense wore down the Pirates throughout the game.

There’s also something to be said about Diaco’s squad’s resiliency after starting the game with a pick-six.

ECU looked unprepared for the Huskies. That can’t continue to happen if McNeill plans on elevating the Pirates to a national stage.

THIRD DOWN: MIXED RESULTS FROM DEFENSE

On one hand the ECU defense forced two turnovers, one of which was a DaShawn Benton pick-six to start the game. On the other hand it allowed 31 points to a previously unimpressive UConn offense.

One thing is for certain; the Pirate defense isn’t to blame. Like the Temple game, it was constantly forced into bad field position and the offense did little to gain any momentum or give it a rest.

But at the end of the day, while the Pirates were attempting a comeback, the defense failed to keep the Huskies off the scoreboard. UConn quarterback Sherriffs found holes on the ground and through the air and running back Newsome ripped off a demoralizing 90-yard run. That’s tough sledding for a team that’s suddenly become reliant on its defense.

The easy assumption is that, like Temple, the Huskies were able to grind ECU down with its big offensive line. It’s not an impressive offense by any means and the Pirates perhaps made them look better than they are.

In total, the Huskies gained (stats) on the ground and complimented the rushing attack with (stats) yards through the air.

They say a good offense is the best defense and right now the Pirates have neither.

FOURTH DOWN: BOWL GAME ON THE LINE

The loss to UConn dropped the Pirates to 4-5 on the season and 2-3 in the American Athletic Conference. They had their hopes for an AAC title dashed against Temple and now a bowl game no longer looks like a right of passage.

This is the same team that came out of a brutal non-conference schedule with a 3-3 record despite all of the offseason losses, has now dropped two of its last three and sits under .500.

Six games will likely get ECU into a bowl game, given how they’ve played against non-conference opponents. Seven wins cements that fate and with South Florida, Central Florida and Cincinnati looming, its not entirely unrealistic to think running the table might be a task too tall.

Luckily the Pirates finally get their first bye-week of the season next weekend. Rested legs might make a difference but missing out on a bowl game would rock a fan base that’s beginning to look at December and January football as a given.

 

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