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The big 2015 ECU football guide: Expect the Pirates to pass this test

The 128-team countdown looks at a steady ship whose captain has a lot to replace.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

fConfused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Stage 3

Two years ago, I wasn't sure if Ruffin McNeill was going to make it at ECU. He inherited a program that had won at least seven games for four straight years under Skip Holtz, then went 11-14 in his first two years.

A late offensive charge in 2012 saved the Pirates' bowl eligibility despite iffy overall performance, but the offense had regressed from a 2010 peak, and the defense was cratering. The success of Steve Logan and Skip Holtz had set the bar pretty high in Greenville, and McNeill wasn't clearing.

As it turned out, the second stage of the McNeill era was beginning in 2012. ECU's 5-2 finish led to a 10-3 2013, and after losing quite a bit of experience, the Pirates finished 8-5 in 2014. And it was a rather unlucky 8-5: ECU was 2-5 in games decided by 10 or fewer points and suffered statistically unlikely losses to UCF and Florida.

Winning 18 games in two years solidifies your job status, but now the third stage begins. Three-year starting quarterback Shane Carden is gone, as is Justin Hardy, the all-time FBS receptions leader. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley left for Oklahoma. And a defense that regressed again must replace more than half its starters.

The state of the program is far from bleak, but there will be a blood transfusion, and ECU's continued success will depend on new names. That's an anxious proposition, but the depth is encouraging.

The Pirates have four three-star QBs to choose from. They lost two of their top three receiving targets, but they return five who caught at least 14 passes and brought in a three-star JUCO and two three-star freshmen. They lose three of last year's top five defensive linemen but boast plenty of big options. And defensive coordinator Rick Smith appears to have plenty of linebackers to swarm the run like last year.

There are question marks, but the biggest ones have potential answers.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 7-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 61
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug NC Central NR 52-7 W 80% 20.0 100%
6-Sep at South Carolina 38 23-33 L 20% -19.4 25%
13-Sep at Virginia Tech 33 28-21 W 56% 3.8 88%
20-Sep North Carolina 70 70-41 W 59% 5.1 97%
4-Oct SMU 127 45-24 W 39% -6.5 99%
11-Oct at South Florida 123 28-17 W 53% 1.5 97%
23-Oct Connecticut 119 31-21 W 21% -18.7 65%
1-Nov at Temple 67 10-20 L 17% -21.9 12%
13-Nov at Cincinnati 47 46-54 L 34% -9.7 34%
22-Nov Tulane 93 34-6 W 87% 25.8 100%
28-Nov at Tulsa 117 49-32 W 55% 3.2 99%
4-Dec Central Florida 60 30-32 L 53% 1.8 70%
3-Jan vs. Florida 32 20-28 L 47% -1.5 57%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 29.6 59 30.5 82
Points Per Game 35.8 23 25.8 55

2. Late improvement and some almosts

In a way, ECU was the anti-Houston. Houston played like a top-60 team through most of the first two-thirds of the season and regressed down the stretch, but a weakening schedule helped prop the Cougars up. ECU took advantage of weak opponents (and Virginia Tech) in moving to 6-1 but only played at about a top-75 level; then, as opponents improved, so did the Pirates.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 9 games): 42% (record: 6-3)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 4 games): 61% (record: 2-2)

ECU was lucky to start 6-3, then equally unlucky to finish 2-2.

The Pirates withstood a rough first half against UCF, forcing six field goal attempts to stay within 26-9 before surging ahead, 30-26. They then proceeded to allow a Hail Mary touchdown at the buzzer to lose. Then, against Florida in the Birmingham Bowl, they outgained the Gators by 197 yards and dominated field position but settled for three field goals and allowed a pick six to lose by eight points.

ECU played well enough to beat two top-60 teams, and the late play allowed them to get back up to 61st in the overall F/+ ratings.

The season was defined by easy wins and tough losses. The Win Expectancy figures above refer to the stats within the game; they say that with these stats -- efficiency and explosiveness stats, turnovers, field position, finishing drives, etc. -- you would have won this game X percent of the time. Of ECU's eight wins, only one had a win expectancy under 88 percent; meanwhile, the two late losses each had a win expectancy over 50 percent.

  • Average Win Expectancy (8 wins): 93%
  • Average Win Expectancy (5 losses): 40%

Part of this disparity was based on the schedule -- it wasn't difficult to safely handle SMU, USF, UConn, and Tulsa while looking only decent -- but ECU still hit a high level of play quite a few times.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.85 63 IsoPPP+ 115.0 37
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 47.1% 18 Succ. Rt. + 107.8 41
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.0 29 Def. FP+ 105.0 20
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.6 51 Redzone S&P+ 118.7 22
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 27.9 ACTUAL 23 -4.9
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 5 35 36 37
RUSHING 66 32 60 19
PASSING 3 46 25 62
Standard Downs 35 37 38
Passing Downs 31 29 40
Q1 Rk 56 1st Down Rk 30
Q2 Rk 40 2nd Down Rk 33
Q3 Rk 41 3rd Down Rk 23
Q4 Rk 2

3. Probably not a lot of change

Ruffin McNeill was Mike Leach's defensive coordinator at Texas Tech, and the style rubbed off on him; when he took the ECU job, he installed spread apprentice Lincoln Riley, a 2006 Texas Tech grad, as his offensive coordinator.

The level varied from year to year, peaking at 17th in Off. S&P+ in 2010 and falling to 67th in 2012 before settling into the 50s. But the identity was clear: spread defenses out, make easy passes from side to side, then hope to spring a big run up the middle. ECU operated with pace and a proclivity for passing (including sacks, Shane Carden attempted 49.9 passes per game), and Justin Hardy caught more passes than any FBS player ever had.

Needing a reset for his own offense, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops hired Riley. But don't expect much change: McNeill handed the reins to Dave Nichol, his outside receivers coach for the last three seasons. Nichol's Leachian credentials stretch beyond ECU, too -- he was on Mike Stoops' Arizona staff from 2007-11, coaching receivers under former Leach assistants Sonny Dykes and Seth Littrell.

Everybody's got their own take on play-calling and philosophy, but expect the same efficiency passing.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Shane Carden
392 617 4736 30 10 63.5% 32 4.9% 6.9
Cody Keith (2013) 6'3, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8181 7 11 57 0 0 63.6% 1 8.3% 3.9
Kurt Benkert 6'3, 225 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8364 8 10 58 0 1 80.0% 0 0.0% 5.8
Blake Kemp 6'1, 207 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) NR
John Jacobs 6'2, 220 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8083

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Breon Allen RB
134 869 8 6.5 7.1 44.0% 3 3
Chris Hairston RB 6'0, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7985 79 528 2 6.7 5.8 49.4% 1 1
Shane Carden QB
64 308 6 4.8 3.4 43.8% 8 3
Anthony Scott RB 5'9, 187 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8308 55 268 3 4.9 4.5 40.0% 1 0
Marquez Grayson RB 6'1, 189 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8758 47 289 5 6.1 4.9 51.1% 1 0
Cory Hunter RB 5'10, 200 Sr. NR NR 7 18 1 2.6 1.7 28.6% 0 0
Kurt Benkert QB 6'3, 225 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8364 5 23 2 4.6 1.8 40.0% 1 1
Shawn Furlow RB 5'10, 187 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8357






4. Options in the backfield

ECU must replace both of its starters, but there are candidates aplenty. At quarterback, aggressive sophomore Kurt Benkert battled JUCO transfer Blake Kemp and hit on quite a few big plays; Benkert appears to have the lead, but Kemp still has a shot, as does 2013 backup Cody Keith, who has missed significant time to injury. Benkert appears to like throwing vertically, but that can constitute heroball in such an efficiency-based attack.

Perhaps ECU's best vertical threat, running back Breon Allen, is also gone. Of the 118 FBS running backs with at least 130 carries, Allen was one of only nine to combine at least a 44 percent Opportunity Rate (carries that gained at least five yards) with an average of at least 7.0 highlight yards per opportunity.

Last year's top backup, senior Chris Hairston, was more efficient and only slightly less explosive, but Hairston and sophomores Marquez Grayson and Anthony Scott fought to a draw this spring. Knowing that Hairston seems to have a high baseline, one has to figure the position is in good hands no matter who wins.

And whoever's running will benefit from a line that replaced three starters and returned only 39 career starts last fall but improved anyway. ECU ranked in the top 50 in Adj. Line Yards (despite sketchiness in short-yardage situations) and Adj. Sack Rate and returns six players with at least 10 games of starting experience, including all-conference performers Ike Harris (tackle) and J.T. Boyd (center).

We'll see how much Nichol chooses to run, but if the passing is at least a little efficient, the run game should be just fine.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Justin Hardy IR-Y
171 121 1494 70.8% 28.2% 69.0% 8.7 57 8.7 170.5
Isaiah Jones IR-H 6'1, 197 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8161 115 83 852 72.2% 18.9% 68.7% 7.4 -130 7.4 97.2
Cam Worthy WR-X
95 55 1016 57.9% 15.7% 68.4% 10.7 337 10.8 115.9
Davon Grayson WR-Z 6'2, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 47 25 257 53.2% 7.7% 59.6% 5.5 -57 5.5 29.3
Breon Allen RB
36 35 289 97.2% 5.9% 50.0% 8.0 -107 8.0 33.0
Jimmy Williams WR-Z 5'11, 189 Jr. NR NR 34 22 254 64.7% 5.6% 61.8% 7.5 -12 7.5 29.0
Bryce Williams IR-Y 6'6, 258 Sr. NR NR 34 18 237 52.9% 5.6% 79.4% 7.0 11 6.2 27.0
Trevon Brown WR-X 6'2, 210 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7683 30 14 264 46.7% 4.9% 50.0% 8.8 83 8.7 30.1
Quay Johnson IR-H 5'10, 177 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7759 10 9 57 90.0% 1.6% 80.0% 5.7 -46 5.2 6.5
Chris Hairston RB 6'0, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7985 9 6 31 66.7% 1.5% 55.6% 3.4 -41 3.4 3.5
Anthony Scott RB 5'9, 187 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8308 7 5 22 71.4% 1.2% 71.4% 3.1 -37 3.2 2.5
Terrell Green WR-X 6'4, 209 So. NR 0.8100 7 1 8 14.3% 1.2% 28.6% 1.1 -12 0.7 0.9
Steve Baggett IR-Y 6'5, 232 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893 2 2 27 100.0% 0.3% 100.0% 13.5 4 NR 3.1
DaQuan Barnes WR 6'1, 187 Jr. NR NR
Brandon Bishop WR 5'11, 184 Jr. NR NR
Curtis Burston WR 6'1, 220 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8154
Malik Gray WR 6'1, 199 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7659
James Summers WR 6'3, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8248
Deondre Farrier WR 6'1, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8464
Justin Strozier WR 6'1, 170 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8154

5. Wanted: big plays

The benefit of throwing so much and operating at such a high pace is that you can lose an all-time receiver like Hardy, plus No. 3 target Cam Worthy and Breon Allen, and still return five guys who were targeted at least 30 times.

The efficiency targets are legion, and odds are good that inside receiver Isaiah Jones will step into Hardy's high-volume role with success. But of the six players with at least 20 catches last year, only three averaged better than 11.6 yards per catch, and Hardy and Worthy were two.

Despite so much passing, ECU had only seven passes of 40-plus yards (84th in FBS), and the two steadiest vertical threats are gone.

Bryce Williams and Trevon Brown both flashed big-play potential, albeit with iffy efficiency (combined catch rate: 50 percent), and Davon Grayson and DaQuan Barnes were able to strike deep this spring. (Actually, there were quite a few big plays this spring, but we'll see if that was because of the receivers or the defensive backs.) But one has to figure there is an opportunity for a newcomer to carve out a niche, be it a redshirt freshman like Curtis Burston, JUCO transfer James Summers, or a freshman like Justin Strozier or well-touted Deondre Farrier.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 107.4 3.04 3.94 45.3% 59.6% 17.2% 118.6 4.0% 7.0%
Rank 42 55 12 15 112 37 42 47 60
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Taylor Hudson C 21 2014 1st All-AAC
Ike Harris LT 6'7, 309 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7444 26 2014 2nd All-AAC
J.T. Boyd C 6'4, 298 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7626 11 2014 2nd All-AAC
Quincy McKinney LG 6'4, 288 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8396 13
C.J. Struyk C 6'2, 295 Sr. NR NR 12
Tre Robertson RT 6'5, 305 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719 11
Dontae Levingston RT 6'4, 306 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8640 10
Stewart Hinson LT 6'7, 295 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7994 0
Larry Williams RG 6'4, 331 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8038 0
Brandon Smith RG 6'8, 341 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8277 0
Christian Matau C 6'3, 334 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7433 0
Messiah Rice LT 6'5, 298 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8506
Garrett McGhin RT 6'6, 310 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7744
Justin Sandifer OL 6'5, 310 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8317
Darius Anderson OL 6'3, 330 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8131
Dalton Montgomery OL 6'6, 255 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.82 46 IsoPPP+ 95.6 84
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.3% 25 Succ. Rt. + 92.5 99
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.9 74 Off. FP+ 95.1 116
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.9 26 Redzone S&P+ 100.0 64
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.0 ACTUAL 19.0 -2.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 38 83 98 84
RUSHING 11 36 38 39
PASSING 101 112 121 104
Standard Downs 80 91 67
Passing Downs 99 89 102
Q1 Rk 121 1st Down Rk 75
Q2 Rk 79 2nd Down Rk 80
Q3 Rk 95 3rd Down Rk 62
Q4 Rk 15

6. Opponents didn't have to run

ECU's defense was one of the best mid-major units in the country when it came to stopping the run. The Pirates ranked 36th in Rushing S&P+; a strong set of big linemen occupied blockers from a 3-4 set, and linebackers flowed to the ball.

Seven players recorded at least 2.5 non-sack tackles for loss, and ECU proved solid in efficiency and explosiveness on the ground. If you needed to run out clock late in a game, you were going to struggle to do so, especially against a defense that seemed to improve as a half unfolded.

One problem: you didn't have to run the ball. The pass was always a happy option. Opponents threw 7 percent more than the national average on both standard and passing downs, and while the raw numbers weren't bad -- 57 percent completion rate, 14 INTs to 20 TDs, 120.2 passer rating -- adjusting for opponent makes things look pretty bad. Some of ECU's best performances in pass defenses came against wretched pass offenses (NC Central, Temple, Tulsa, Florida), and other iffy units like UConn's looked pretty good.

Whether ECU's pass defense was just bad or bottom-20 bad wasn't the point; it was weak enough to prevent the Pirates from playing to their strengths. And with turnover in the secondary, it isn't guaranteed to get better.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 103.1 2.42 2.51 29.4% 75.0% 20.0% 67.2 2.8% 5.8%
Rank 48 11 14 3 104 55 111 109 96
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Terrell Stanley (2013) DE 6'2, 268 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8035 13 31.0 4.0% 10.0 7.0 0 1 0 0
Chrishon Rose DE
13 27.5 3.8% 4.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Fred Presley DE 6'3, 271 Jr. NR NR 13 25.0 3.5% 8.0 6.0 0 0 0 0
Terry Williams NT
10 23.5 3.3% 6.5 1.5 0 1 2 0
Johnathon White DE 6'4, 282 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7444 12 20.0 2.8% 4.5 0.5 1 1 1 0
Terry Biles DE
13 11.5 1.6% 2.5 0.5 1 0 0 0
K'Hadree Hooker DE 6'1, 322 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8811 12 9.0 1.3% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Demetri McGill NT 6'1, 314 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8395 10 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Mike Myers DE 6'0, 290 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7583 4 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kirk Donaldson DE 6'3, 262 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685
Demage Bailey NT 6'5, 316 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7800
Shaun James DE 6'4, 235 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8033
Darius Commissiong NT 6'2, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8322
Justin Brown NT 6'3, 310 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8392







Kyron Speller DE 6'1, 272 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8033

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Zeek Bigger MIKE 6'2, 216 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8490 13 103.0 14.4% 3.5 0.0 2 4 0 0
Brandon Williams BUCK
13 89.0 12.4% 13.5 5.0 1 5 1 0
Montese Overton SAM 6'3, 221 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8126 13 51.0 7.1% 11.5 3.0 0 4 0 0
Maurice Falls WILL
13 27.0 3.8% 5.0 2.5 1 1 1 0
Dayon Pratt SAM 6'4, 218 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7400 11 26.5 3.7% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Joe Allely WILL 6'1, 230 So. NR NR 13 14.5 2.0% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ray Tillman BUCK 6'1, 206 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8175 8 6.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Joe Carter MIKE 6'2, 222 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7533 12 6.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Pat Green OLB 6'2, 217 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8080 13 5.5 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cam White MIKE 5'11, 213 Jr. NR NR 7 4.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 1 1 0
Devaris Brunson BUCK 6'1, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8747 2 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Jordan Williams BUCK 6'0, 230 So. NR NR 9 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Reece Speight WILL 6'3, 234 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7886
Yiannis Bowden SAM 6'5, 225 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8235
Darius Wright ILB 6'0, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8156
C.J. Maybin OLB 6'4, 195 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8023







7. They probably won't run this year either

Of last year's seven players with at least 2.5 non-sack TFLs, four are gone, including a wonderful play-maker in linebacker Brandon Williams.

But it's hard to worry, not with the return of players like linebacker Montese Overton, ends Fred Presley and Johnathon White, and MLB/defensive quarterback Zeek Bigger. ECU should be well-organized and fast, and if a tackle like K'Hadree Hooker, Demage Bailey, or JUCO transfer Darius Commissiong is able to fill the space-eater role, I don't expect change.

The front seven could also do the secondary a few more favors. Presley and Overton were two of only three Pirates with at least three sacks, and their return should assure that the pass rush at least holds steady. And if could improve if or when Terrell Stanley returns to speed. Stanley was a major force in 2013 but suffered major injuries in a February 2014 car accident and missed all of last season. He still hasn't returned to full-form, but he's got a few more months.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Detric Allen CB
13 49.5 6.9% 1 0 0 6 1 0
Domonique Lennon FS 6'2, 210 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8136 12 48.0 6.7% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Lamar Ivey SS
12 44.5 6.2% 1 0 2 7 0 0
Josh Hawkins CB 5'10, 185 Sr. NR NR 13 37.5 5.2% 1.5 0 5 11 1 0
DaShaun Amos CB 6'1, 189 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7600 13 16.0 2.2% 2 1 0 0 0 0
Terrell Richardson SS 6'0, 211 Jr. NR NR 12 15.0 2.1% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
DaShawn Benton SS 6'0, 191 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8181 11 12.5 1.7% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Rocco Scarfone CB 5'11, 178 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7769 13 9.5 1.3% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Travon Simmons FS 5'10, 185 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7500 9 6.0 0.8% 0 0 1 2 1 0
Cody Purdie SS 5'11, 191 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 4 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Bobby Fulp FS 6'4, 195 So. NR NR 12 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Travis Phillips CB 5'11, 178 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7900
Drew Turnage DB 6'0, 195 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726
Blake Norwood SS 6'0, 195 RSFr. NR NR
Corey Seargent CB 6'0, 171 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8137
Nhyre Quinerly DB 5'11, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8310
Colby Gore DB 5'11, 170 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7986








8. Hawkins needs help

Josh Hawkins recorded five interceptions last year; the rest of the secondary had three. He also broke up 11 more passes (four more than any other DB) and recorded 1.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 behind fellow corner DaShaun Amos. He is a keeper.

He also needs help. ECU's pass defense had little to offer opponents who were competent through the air -- their pass rush, pass disruption, and big-play prevention were all lacking at times. The pass rush could improve with Terrell Stanley's return, but the loss of corner Detric Allen and safety Lamar Ivey means that ECU will be deciding between iffy backups with experience and untested newcomers.

True freshman Corey Seargent had a hell of a spring, actually threatening to unseat Hawkins, and little-used reserve Rocco Scarfone tested DaShaun Amos. Sophomore Travon Simmons seemed to have a nice spring as well. Another true freshman, Nhyre Quinerly, recorded an interception in the spring game.

In theory, if you've got experienced players (Hawkins, Lennon, Amos) and young guys with upside (Simmons, Seargent, Quinerly), you might be able to find a nice mix. But it's hard to trust that will happen.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Worth Gregory 6'3, 209 Jr. 49 43.6 7 10 19 59.2%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Warren Harvey 83 61.8 29 1 34.9%
Davis Plowman 5'10, 204 Jr. 3 55.0 0 0 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Warren Harvey 57-58 13-15 86.7% 1-7 14.3%
Davis Plowman 5'10, 204 Jr. 1-1 0-0 N/A 0-1 0.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Isaiah Jones KR 6'1, 197 Jr. 24 19.9 0
Trevon Brown KR 6'2, 210 So. 11 23.5 0
Justin Hardy PR 23 4.1 0
Trevon Brown PR 6'2, 210 So. 2 8.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 112
Field Goal Efficiency 107
Punt Return Efficiency 54
Kick Return Efficiency 128
Punt Efficiency 80
Kickoff Efficiency 77
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 60

9. A bad kind of tie-breaker

ECU had an efficient offense and inefficient defense, so special teams served as a bit of a tie-breaker in terms of field position. That didn't work out well. The Pirates' coverage units and return games were lacking; Trevon Brown might be the answer for return troubles -- in limited opportunities, he had better averages than the primary return man at both kicks and punts -- and perhaps the new set of young DBs can help in returns.

Regardless, ECU did not thrive in close games, and special teams give you an opportunity to turn the tables in those games.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 F/+ Rk
5-Sep Towson NR
12-Sep at Florida 32
19-Sep at Navy 44
26-Sep Virginia Tech 33
3-Oct at SMU 127
10-Oct at BYU 46
17-Oct Tulsa 117
22-Oct Temple 67
30-Oct at Connecticut 119
7-Nov South Florida 123
19-Nov at Central Florida 60
28-Nov Cincinnati 47
Five-Year F/+ Rk -5.6% (71)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 76 / 75
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -4 / -6.9
2014 TO Luck/Game +1.1
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 11 (6, 5)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 9.4 (-1.4)

10. An odd schedule

ECU plays a pretty segregated schedule.

  • Opponents who ranked in the F/+ top 30 last year: 0
  • Opponents who ranked between 30th and 70th: 7 (three at home, four on the road)
  • Opponents who ranked between 70th and 115th: 0
  • Opponents who ranked worse than 115th: 5 (three at home, two on the road)

That makes it easy to zero in on a 7-5 or 8-4 record, depending on whether you think ECU is a top-80 team or a top-60 team.

It wouldn't take many ifs for ECU to become a stellar squad, however, one capable of winning any game in that 30th-to-70th batch. If a new quarterback emerges, if at least one new big-play threat takes hold in the receiving corps, and if the young blood in the secondary is able to raise the pass defense from bad to competent, then ECU is an AAC contender.

The Pirates aren't the safest bet for the conference crown, but they belong in the conversation.

Ruffin McNeill has survived and adapted in five years of leading his alma mater. This offseason's turnover has provided a new challenge, but he has recruited well enough that he can lose three important figures and still have a realistic shot. Bonesville is his home, and his odds of winning at least eight games for the fourth straight year are solid.