GamecockAnthem.com partner "The Zone" on ESPN Radio in Columbia 93.1 FM recently went in-depth with The Daily Reflector's ECU beat writer Nathan Summers. Look below for the transcript of host Tyler Cupp's interview.
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TC: East Carolina has been talked about a lot having some offseason issues. Couple of wide receivers out. Their defense struggled last year allowing an average of six touchdowns a game. Give us something positive about these East Carolina Pirates.
NS: With the defense, the positive remains to be seen. I think the positive is that any team that switches from a 4-3 to a 3-4 -- I think it definitely highlights what they want to highlight, and that's the linebacker play. We don't have the strongest front four in the world, a lot of times a 3-4 can toss some of the problems. The 3-4 will highlight guys like the outside linebackers where they do have depth now, but didn't last year. Marke Powell and Justin Dixon went back and forth from being a severely undersized d-end to some times being an outside linebacker. This defense allows those guys to just worry about what their best at which is playing linebacker. They have another guy on the outside who was a JUCO, Chris Baker, who has played a ton since he got to August camp. They really like him. Also, if you take a guy up front like Michael Brooks, who will be the nose guard, is back from a long-term injury who is another guy they could have used a lot to make things look a lot better last year.
Offensively, I think the biggest positive is you don't really lose a lot by losing your all-time leading receiver, Dwayne Harris. This offense needs 10-12 receivers to work, and it probably has its best big play guy back, Lance Lewis.
TC: Speaking of offense, you guys throw the ball all over the field - 8th in the nation is passing yards. Quarterback Dominique Davis is a bright spot. You were 99th in the running game. Has anything been done to show improvement in the running game?
NS: There should be a tremendous improvement. In fact, the guy that they got is another junior college guy. They lost three senior running backs, and as you mentioned, this is not a great rushing team to begin with. They didn't run the ball a ton obviously. A pass heavy offense coming in had something to do with that. The running backs that were here last year, Jon Williams and Givani Ruffin also became almost primarily pass catchers anyway. They called a lot of screens and did a lot of short passing. Reggie Bullock appears to be the real deal. He's not the biggest guy, but he did lead the national JUCO ranks in rushing with about 1800 yards and 20 or so touchdowns. Some times it's hard to tell from a highlight reel, but he has some pretty impressive highlight reels from what he did at Arizona Western last year. He should be everything they had from last year and then some. He's got a lot more speed, a lot more ability to make guys miss. I think Reggie will be a welcome addition to allow them to take a little bit of heat off the passing game. Against South Carolina, I think you'll see a lot more Reggie than at the end of the year.
TC: Let's stick with the offense there. A guy named Lincoln Riley is heading up the offense, he's a Mike Leach guy. Actually, this offensive staff has a couple of Leach proteges. A lot of people know Mike Leach's days at Texas Tech had a lot of good offenses there. No matter what quarterback you put back there, they were doing some big things, throwing for some big yardage. Talk about the scheme with a lot of Mike Leach guys.
NS: By Ruffin knowing for sure when he got this job, Lincoln was probably the first guy that he kind of said, "yeah I need to hire him immediately. I want him to come here and run this offense." I think just by Lincoln's young age - being the youngest coordinator in the country raised some eyebrows just because of that. I think it was some unintentional age (discrimination). I think he made a lot of believers out of people and in a weird sort of way, I think that in a lot of ways was a huge shot in the arm for them to have some youth on the coaching staff. As you mentioned, in the Leach way of thinking, you roll the dice a lot on offense. I think it was perfect timing not only for Lincoln to be hired, but he says this to me all the time, and he couldn't be more right you could have taken almost any quarterback in the country and if you had your pick, and there are a few exceptions, but it'd be tougher to have picked a better guy than Dominique Davis to start off this adventure of a totally new offensive scheme. Dominique literally did what JUCO guys are supposed to do. He not only came in the door ready to play right away, he kind of run this offense on the fly last year. I think that's another positive this year. He literally got here at the last minute last August in terms of getting enrolled in school and being ready to go. He took the thing head on and it was probably the most impressive single season I've ever covered in college football in terms of quarterbacks. He really understands it all. He went the JUCO route for a reason, but I'm a firm believer a lot guys do pretty well with their second chance. After what happened with dom at Boston College, and then going to the JUCO in Kansas. I think Dominique is making the most of his second chance.
TC: You have a young safety on your team that is a junior named Leonard Paulk. He's the brother of USC linebacker, Rodney Paulk. We have brother against brother. I haven't heard this played up a lot in the Columbia media, but speak a little about Leonard Paulk and what he asks of your team up there in East Carolina.
NS: I wrote about this a little bit early on. It's interesting to get from his prospective of growing up there in the immediate footprint of South Carolina football and how that's stayed with him throughout his high school and this part of his college career. I'm pretty sure Leonard has more on his mind than just playing the team he grew up in the backyard of. He will be, by in large, playing in place of Emanuel Davis who is serving a one game suspension. After covering this team for several years, E Davi is one of the biggest sort of big game corners they've had since I've covered this team. Not having him out there is a huge hole in the field. Leonards going to be called on to play that boundary side corner, and he is a guy that can play safety or corner. He's a very versatile guy. I think his brother is going to be the last thing on his mind at 7:00 on Saturday night.
TC: Finish this statement for me. The East Carolina Pirates will win this game at Bank of America Stadium Saturday Night If...
NS: I hate to give such an obvious answer, but if they're winning this game at half-time given that their entire offseason has been spent thinking about how to better finish games in the third quarter and how not to give them away when leading them. I always look back last year to Virginia Tech at half-time. They could have won it if they came out with any kind of guts, any kind of determination, and any sort of prowess or swagger whatsoever in the third quarter. If they can not get run over with the new defense by this killer South Carolina offense early on, and get some stops and stay in the game, I give them plenty of opportunity. If they are getting run over early on, I don't expect things to change.
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