We have a special edition of the Q&A this week, and it's great stuff. Site regular PirateWolf was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Pirates ahead of our game this weekend. He has degrees from both State and ECU, and he's also a season ticket holder for both, so he has a unique perspective on this rivalry, to say the least.
1.) East Carolina kinda "leveled up," so to speak, this year, improving its overall performance significantly over last season. Do you think this performance level is sustainable for ECU over the long term? Or is it a peak before a fall down to, say, 7-5 territory?
I believe the "leveling up" this year is due to two factors: 1) better play by the defense, mostly due to (finally) firing Brian Mitchell and bringing in Rick Smith (ECU DBs coach under Skip Holtz) to run the defense, and 2) the offense finally clicking under Lincoln Riley, as evidenced by the offense finally being able to run at a faster pace (ECU is running 6 more plays per game this year than last, for 55 more yards per game). The defensive improvement has come about from the DC change and some young players stepping up at linebacker (Montese Overton, Zeek Bigger, Brandon Williams). The offensive improvement is completely due to Shane Carden's increased understanding of the offense, which then goes back to Lincoln Riley being a solid OC.
Now whether or not this is a sustainable level is the big question. Carden will be back next year, but with the jump to the American Athletic Conference, the loss of some key seniors, and the potential departure of WR Justin Hardy to the NFL (not to mention, possibly losing Lincoln Riley to a HC job or bigger OC job), there will likely be a step back. Plus, aside from the jump in conference opponents, the OOC schedule includes games at South Carolina and Virginia Tech, as well as a home date with UNC. The quality of recruiting has increased each year under Ruffin McNeill, so I'd like to think that there's a good possibility to keep this level of play up, but truly only time will tell. The good news for ECU is that if there is a drop-off, it should be minor and not a drop off a cliff Southern Miss-style.
2.) Shane Carden is playing better this year. In particular, he's throwing an INT every 60 attempts or so, compared to an INT for every 41 attempts last year. What's been the difference for him in 2013?
I think it all comes down to a better understanding of the offense and more confidence on the field. ECU is running more no-huddle, which indicates that Riley is more comfortable letting Carden call the plays based on his reading of the defense rather than having to always look to the sideline for the coach's adjustment. Well, that and he got a sweet tattoo during the off-season... yeah, that's gotta be it.
3.) Which skill position players do we need to worry about destroying our wills to live?
WR Justin Hardy (87 rec, 1047 yards, 7 TDs). He's not going to run by any of State's DBs, but he runs extremely crisp routes that allow him to get open in man coverage and he's great at finding the open space against zone coverage. Also dangerous as a punt returner.
RB Vintavious Cooper (163 car, 754 yards, 9 TDs; 34 rec, 343 yards, 1 TD). You can look at his numbers and tell that Coop's a HUGE part of the offense. He's probably actually been the biggest difference in the offense in the last two years as he's provided a solid running game (ran for over 1,000 yards last year). Breon Allen has looked great as his back up the last few weeks.
Those are the obvious two, but for a non-Campanaro, gonna-slowly-papercut-you-to-death-style guy, I'll throw WR Reese Wiggins on here, too. He finally had a breakout game last week with 142 yards and 3 TDs, but I put him here because he's friggin' fast, NFL fast, so he's the guy you'll have to worry about getting behind the DBs for the "ah, shit!" big play.
4.) You've seen plenty of both of these teams, no doubt -- is there any specific area you think NC State can exploit on Saturday?
Yeah, I have season tickets for both schools... my wife always said she wanted to travel! Although, I don't think she meant to Carter-Finley and/or Dowdy-Ficklen every Saturday in the fall.
Anyways, I think Shadrach Thornton could have a huge game. Not just because Shad's a plankin' beast, but because ECU struggled against the one really good RB it faced this year (Trey Watts of Tulsa ran for 120 yards and a TD on 27 carries). State could also take advantage (although it would be the first time this year since... *sigh*... NC State QB situation) of the size advantage of State's WRs vs ECU's DBs.
If it comes down to FG kicking, State has the edge.
Also, ECU's been burned on trick plays a few times this year and the kick return coverage has been suspect at times, so... stop smiling, Rashard Smith... so if State decides to -- dammit, Rashard, stop smiling!!
5.) How does someone end up becoming a fan of both NC State and East Carolina? We demand details! And throw in some credit card numbers while you're at it. Are you conflicted when these schools play, or is that not an issue for you?
Well, my dad played football for State back in the 70s under Earle Edwards and Lou Holtz and coached for a short time under Holtz. Needless to say, I was born a State fan. I've been going to games since I was so young my mom would pin a note to my shirt in case I wandered off in pure NC State football excitement. Anyways, after high school and an injury that derailed my college baseball plans, I wanted to get away from Raleigh so I went to ECU. I fell in love with the place and scrapped my plans and accepted transfer paperwork at State to stay in Greenville. After undergrad and my first job, I returned to Raleigh and went to NC State for grad school. So now I sit a really weird and really confused guy.
When the two schools play, I usually pull for whoever needs the win more or whoever would be most adversely affected by the loss. Saturday, I'll be going for ECU (sorry, folks!). But either way, my teams are going .500 this week and that sucks. I'm just hoping for a well-played game with no injuries and hopefully the team that wins is the team that deserves to win.
I think it'll be a close game. 35-23 ECU, with the 3-for-7's killing State again.
Thanks for letting me help with the Q&A! Go Pack! Go Pirates!... wait... ah, shit!