This is a new segment I’m going to try out this year. If it’s awful, let me know. I probably won’t listen - or at least that’s what my wife would have you believe - but maybe I will. Who knows! I certainly don’t!
SHOT #1: Stop Keaton Mitchell and the ECU rushing attack
East Carolina RB Keaton Mitchell is hands down the most explosive player on the Pirates offense. The 5’9, 184-lbs third-year player averaged 6.5 yards/carry and 11.5 yards/reception last year while earning First Team All-AAC honors. He’s a member of the preseason watch lists for both the Doak Walker and Maxwell Awards. Dude is legit.
Fellow third-year RB Rahjai Harris is the bruiser of the backfield tandem, although he’s slimmed down heading into this season, dropping close to 20 lbs. The 5’11, 208-lbs South Carolina native has rushed for 1,203 yards and 8 TDs over his first two seasons with the Pirates. He’s not as explosive as Mitchell (few are), but he’s no slouch and will get his share of touches.
Then there’s QB Holton Ahlers, who himself is a threat to take off with the ball under his arm. Ahlers has rushed for 1,264 non-sack-adjusted yards in his career with 19 TDs. He won’t out-run many, but he’ll pick up yards and doesn’t shy away from contact.
Last year, ECU averaged 176 yards rushing per game in their seven wins. The Pirates averaged just 94.8 rush yards per game in their five losses, and keep in mind that none of those games were blowouts where ECU had to abandon the run early. Simply put, the Pirates win when they rush the ball well.
But this is about NC State. The Wolfpack faced seven teams with what could be considered mobile QBs a year ago. In those games, State allowed 463 non-sack-adjusted rushing yards to those QBs at a 4.7 yards/carry clip. That ain’t good. Furthermore, the Pack faced three RBs last year who individually went over 1,000 yards rushing on the season. Those three RBs went for 214 yards against State at a 7.1 yards/carry average.
If NC State is going to win on Saturday, they’ll need to stop Mitchell (1,132 rush yards in 2021) and contain Ahlers to the pocket to limit the damage he can do with his legs.
SHOT #2: Establish the run game
It’s no secret that NC State ran the ball well in their wins last year, and struggled to run it in their losses. Across the Pack’s three losses in 2021, State’s ground attack averaged a measly 69.0 rush yards per game. That number was 119.3 yards/game in their seven wins against teams not named USF and Furman (and an impressive 149.6 yards/game overall in the nine wins).
The Wolfpack will have a significant size advantage to their... uhh... advantage in this game. East Carolina utilizes a 4-2-5 base defense, and of the nine defensive lineman listed on the two-deep for the game, only two of them tip the scales at over 275 lbs. Only one of State’s starting offensive lineman checks in at under 310 lbs.
This is a matchup that the Pack should exploit. If they are able to do so, then the Pirates will have to shift down help from the linebacker and safety levels, which will free up Devin Leary and the passing game to cook.
SHOT #3: The Kraken Rum
So this is the part of the segment where I’m going to feature a liquor drink with some kind of connection to the opponent for that week.
Bet you thought I’d go with Captain Morgan, huh?
While I do appreciate the many quality variants of rum produced by the Captain (and by the way, if you like history and/or pirates and/or want to know more about the life of the real Captain Henry Morgan, I cannot recommend the Pirate History Podcast enough... it’s a great podcast, so give it a listen on whatever podcast platform you prefer), for this week I’m going with my personal favorite rum.
Yeah, it’s a little strange to go with a rum named after a creature with a legend that surely shook the boots of many a pirate, but as every pirate knows, respect for the sea is a must if you’re going to be successful. And what two beings were more feared out on the open ocean than the kraken and the pirate?
Also, yeah, it’s just a really really good dark rum. It’s excellent straight up, but the flavor profile with all the various spices works fantastically well in mixed drinks, too.
So go have yourself a shot and enjoy the game!