At midseason, none of the opponents that were left on the schedule had winning records. ECU was arguably favored in each of these games. The Pirates were bound to run the table and Pirate Nation saw nothing but smooth sailing to this year's conference title game. There was no fear of losing, no uncertainty to use as motivation. And, as a result, Navy came to town and handed ECU a big old piece of humble pie, 56-28.
Through the season's first eight games, the Pirates played a pass happy offense, and defended well against the run. They struggled, at times, to produce on the ground and gave up big plays in the air. That was their identity and, for the most part, every Pirate knew what to expect. Navy was able to disrupt ECU in nearly every facet of the game was partially due to the fact that the Midshipmen were able to flip the Pirates identity on its head.
ECU quarterback Shane Carden and his core group of receivers struggled to put together the output that fans are used to seeing. Carden finished a respectable 19-29 but only for 194 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. The passes were short and the gains were small when compared to previous week's totals. The largest offensive play of the game was a 36-yard pass to Justin Jones.
Adversely, the Pirates running game seemed to be the only answer. The combination of Vintavious Cooper (18 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown) and Reggie Bullock (seven carries for 37 yards and two touchdowns) was the brightest spot on the stormy night. But, given the events that had played out, the running game didn't have the means to take control of the game. The Pirates needed the passing game, and it wasn't all there. ECU ran the ball 33 times and only passed it 29 times.
On defense, the Pirates couldn't stop the run, which had never been a serious problem beforehand. And boy did Navy take advantage of that…
Ground and pound
Sometimes, the best way to make a point is to just list the straight up facts. Against ECU, Navy put up some impressive, and extremely disheartening, statistics:
512 rushing yards
12+ different ball carriers
7.4 yards per attempt
0 fumbles and only two runs for negative yardage
They ran the ball up and down the field and in one direction only: full speed ahead. Pirate faithful couldn't help but have a terrible case of déjà vu.
Again, Navy dominates in Greenville
There are all sorts of corny metaphors that could be used here: Navy commandeers the Pirates' ship. The Pirates couldn't protect their vessel. Pirates ship under Military siege. etc. etc. However you put it, it is clear that the Midshipmen have had their way with ECU in Dowdy-Ficklen in recent memory.
In 2010, Navy came to town and left with a 76-35 victory. That's 76 points, as in 10 touchdowns and two field goals. To put that into perspective, the Pirates scored 75 points in their first four games this season. Combine that total with Navy's 56 points this time around and the Midshipmen have totaled 132 points in their last two trips to Greenville. That's an average of 66 points and nine touchdowns per game. Like I said earlier, sometimes the stats just speak for themselves.
This loss may not have hurt ECU's Conference USA chances as much as it hurt the team's pride. But in all honesty, the season is far from being decided. It all depends on how the team decides to react. They can pack it in after the loss, or they could use it as the motivation needed to take on the rest of the season. Knowing this team and the people it is comprised of, I choose to believe the latter.