Five Burning Questions: SMU vs. East Carolina

Hatts talked with Inside ECU Sports' Brian Wudkwych about SMU's game Saturday vs. ECU.

Andrew Hattersley: Coming off a lot of turnover this past offseason, how would you assess ECU’s start to the season and is this is a team that is starting to come together as conference play rolls around?
Brian Wudkych: ECU of course lost two of its best on the offensive side of the ball in quarterback Shane Carden and receiver Justin Hardy, but we've learned a few things about the team so far. In playing Florida close and beating Virginia Tech, we see that head coach Ruffin McNeill has built a solid team outside of his star players. Receiver Isaiah Jones looks to be a worthy replacement for Hardy so far and the team has found different ways to compete each week. It's a different looking team than in year's passed but it looks like it's starting to find its rhythm right now.

AH: Following the loss of Kurt Benkert, what areas has Blake Kemp impressed in his first couple of starts and what are some things that he seems to struggle with?
BW: The loss of Kurt Benkert, especially as close to the season as it was, really hurt the team. However, Blake Kemp has come in and performed admirably. He lacks a big arm and can't quite stretch the field in the same sense that Benkert was expected to but he's shown the ability to read defenses and hit his timing routes. Who knows just how much of the playbook has been opened up to him so far, but considering the workload the offensive coordinator Dave Nichol has put on him, the JUCO transfer hasn't truly struggled with much so far.

With that being said, Kemp may not even be the signal caller that SMU will see the most of this week. Another JUCO guy, James Summers, had a breakout performance against Virginia Tech last week. Originally slated as a receiver throughout camp, Summers switched back to quarterback, a position he played his entire life, after the Benkert injury. He relieved Kemp in last week's win over the Hokies and had 279 total yards in three quarters of action, all capped off by a spectacular touchdown run.

AH: It’s no secret SMU has had trouble stopping the run this season especially with dual-threat quarterbacks, Blake has not taken off running much with the ball this season but could we see ECU employ a couple of quarterback draws this weekend given SMU’s trouble with stopping runs up the middle?
BW: The true challenge from a dual-threat standpoint will be Summers. The Pirates haven't traditionally used much read option in the past but Summers has such a big-play ability that it has forced ECU to conform to his abilities when he's in the game. Summers ran the ball 21 times for 169 yards against a tough Virginia Tech defense last week and was hands down the Pirates' best player. If he has an encore performance, and SMU fails to make its adjustments, it could be a long day for the Mustang defense.

AH: Courtland Sutton has had a huge start to the year for SMU, what might ECU do to try and slow him down in the passing game and could they possibly look to double him in certain situations?
BW: It'll be really interesting to see what ECU defensive coordinator Rick Smith does to Sutton. Senior corner Josh Hawkins was expected to be a shutdown guy this year but has been on and off the field due to his performance. Freshman Corey Seargent played well last week against VT and I think the coaching staff wants to see more of him. I wouldn't be surprised to see safeties Terrell Richardson or Travon Simmons see time doubling Sutton given their athletic ability. Sutton will be the first truly explosive receiver the team sees this year and I think that what Smith does and its impact, either positive or negative, could be a blue print down the road.

AH: ECU has already played a couple of dual-threat quarterbacks of their own this season, what have players been saying about playing another one this weekend in Matt Davis?
BW: ECU players are always pretty ho-hum about opposing teams in terms of personnel. McNeill touched on it and mentioned his explosiveness but if you look at how poorly the defense played against Keenan Reynolds and Navy, it perhaps indicates that this team struggles with dual threat quarterbacks. It seems like an uptempo offense as well which also spells trouble for ECU given their problems defending faster paced offenses. As is every week, I'm sure Smith will key in on forcing turnovers, something that ECU hasn't been all that great at.

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