Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Chasing the Pirates

For those of us who are fans of C-USA football, it would be remiss to not mention the circumstances around a real atypical champion of our League: East Carolina.

Tulane missed the Pirates this year. So you might have missed just how unusual ECU’s 8-1 conference mark, including the championship game, was. They lost in overtime to Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl- and lost a trio of decent games to good BCS schools.

It was odd because ECU stood the traditional, post Tommy Bowden C-USA conference model on its head: spread offense, great quarterback play, let’s score 40 and make them catch us.

Frankly, ECU was real mediocre on offense. The numbers here demonstrate a Pirates’ outfit ranked in the bottom half in total offense, points scored and passing offense. The Pirates threw for only 210 yards a game. For comparison, Tulane was at 207- and Tulane was a mess on offense a lot. Pirate quarterback Patrick Pinkney would have sunk a lot of C-USA football teams.

As you might expect, their quarterback position, like Tulane’s, was highly suspect. Yet they won the League. How? By utilizing three rushers to go for a Forte like 2100 yards- ball control, protect the defense and qb in lieu of big point- and then adding in the League’s best defense.

Ball control and defense? In C-USA? It is so weird it deserves mention. Pinkney threw 15 TD passes; Case Kennum at Houston threw 44. The Pirates had 55 rushing attempts in the Liberty Bowl. Very weird.

Is this model sustainable? Bob Toledo thinks it is- he’s never embraced the spread, likes to run the football. Undoubtedly, he has got ammo here for his position here.

I don’t know. The spread style prospers in C-USA for three reasons. First, defensive back is the worst overall position in C-USA. Israel Route being named an all league performer, an honor honestly deserved, tells you all you need to know about the talent level at corner/safety in C-USA. Mostly everyone has trouble generating quality coverage people, let alone nickle and dime backs. The spread attacks right at that problem.

Second, a quarterback without an NFL style body can really prosper in our League. Quaterbacks outside the top 20 style recruit can thrive in this system. Hence they are available. The sole difference between Rice winning bunches in 2008 and being horrid this year was QB Chase Clement- and he was never a pro prospect. C-USA has featured dozens of quarterbacks this decade playing at a competent level that couldn’t get a sniff from Wake Forest or Miami. Plus, the spread then rewards you for getting that position right- you can cover shortfalls in ten other offensive starters with the right guy doing the pitching. The spread is a system that rewards what talent you can find in C-USA.

Third, all those three- and five- step drops, plus misdirection running plays, are easier to block for undersized offensive linemen. Puts a lot more emphasis on technique and being in the right place, than size and brawn. And C-USA needs to find things to emphasize besides raw physical talent.

So I’m not sure if this is the wave of the future in our League. Those three fundamentals are unchanged. ECU was able to steal a march because the very top of our League was down this year- who was a legit candidate for top 25, let along top 40? Still, I never thought I would see a team enjoy a season’s worth of success running the football and playing defense in C-USA.

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