Sports Editor Chase Kroll answers questions about ECU's matchup with USC
1. How different is the ECU offense this year without Dominique Davis?
EC: Losing a quarterback like Dominique Davis, who holds quite a few school records, is never easy, but the ECU offense should look very similar. Rio Johnson spent two years learning behind Davis and has developed into a quarterback with similar qualities. He can make the necessary throws in the Pirates’ pass-happy offense and isn’t afraid to tuck his shoulder and run, either.
One difference this year could be the coaching staff’s decision to lean on the run game a bit more to help Johnson get comfortable. The Pirates used a stable of four running backs, totaling 148 yards on 33 carries, against (Appalachian) State last week.
2. Does last year’s early lead against the Gamecocks give the Pirates some confidence going into this season’s matchup?
EC: ECU felt like they let a golden opportunity slip away last season after rushing out to a 24-14 lead at the half before falling 56-37 in Charlotte. The fact that ECU went up 17-0 to start the game definitely instills the confidence in the Pirates that they can keep up. But, aside from gaining confidence and experience, that game gave ECU something to prove. The players and fans remember watching the game slip away, and that alone should provide enough incentive to go out and play their best game.
3. Does the defense have an answer for the USC rushing attack?
EC: ECU’s defense prides itself on being built through the middle. Highlighted by All-American linebacker Jeremy Grove, the Pirates’ front seven will need to be dominant.
Up front, the Pirates will be without starting nose tackle Michael Brooks, a preseason first team All-Conference USA selection. So the Pirate to watch on defense will be his replacement, Terrell Stanley.
The key to the game for the defense won’t be to stop Marcus Lattimore; it will be to contain him. Vanderbilt’s defense provided a decent blueprint that ECU needs to follow. Lattimore will get his stats, but if the defense keeps it close, things could get interesting.
4. How closely has ECU been monitoring the health of quarterback Connor Shaw, and do the Pirates see this is as an opportunity to pull the upset?
EC: Pirate Nation has definitely been staying up to date on Connor Shaw’s health status. ECU will absolutely have a better chance at winning if Dylan Thompson is in the game for the Gamecocks.
ECU is the underdog, and the fans know that. The Pirates will have to play their best game, like I alluded to earlier, to win against a South Carolina team that is full of talent. But Pirate Nation loves playing (as) the underdog and has had some recent success. So, even if Shaw plays, ECU fans and players alike will always feel like they can go out and pull off the upset against such a formidable opponent.
5. Prediction time — who ya got?
EC: I couldn’t call myself a Pirate fan if I didn’t pick ECU in this game. So although I was born in Columbia, my mom graduated from USC and my grandma probably won’t speak to me for a week, I’m predicting ECU 31, USC 28.