Pirate fans looking for splashy win vs. Hokies
Posted September 13, 2013
There’ll be no problem with prodigal halftime tailgaters at ECU’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday. There’ll be very few – if any – empty seats even for a noon kickoff that’ll be on television. The noise level will be off the charts. When it comes to game-day energy, the Pirates put on the best 50,000-seat show in the business.
“ECU people love it. They really do,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said.
There's no question of the passion that Pirate fans will bring. The overriding question in Greenville is whether fourth-year coach Ruffin McNeill can exit “The Big Fick” with his second signature win by stopping Beamer and his traditional ACC front-running Hokies?
Through 40 games at his alma mater, McNeill is 21-19 overall and 17-8 in Conference USA games (counting last week’s 31-13 win over new league member Florida Atlantic).
The former star defensive back for the Pirates has struggled to develop a competitive defense and hasn’t been able to reach the championship game in a league where ECU clearly should be the crown jewel.
On the whole, however, McNeill has done enough.
In early June, the school rewarded an 8-5 (7-1 conference) record in 2012 by extending his contract through the 2017 season at an annual guarantee of at least $1.15 million.
In its entire football history, ECU has had four coaches who have been totally committed to the school and its football mission.
Clarence Stasavich (50-27-1 from 1962-69) was the first. McNeill is the latest. The other two – former Pirate player Ed Emory (26-29 in 1980-84) and Steve Logan (69-58 in 1992-02) – were fired.
And starting with Stasavich’s 20-10 win over Wake Forest in the 1963 stadium dedication game, Pirate fans always have placed unusually high emphasis on wins over ACC opponents and/or national powers.
No one was better on that front than Logan, whose first four wins were over Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Cincinnati and Pitt. Even Logan’s last win – 31-28 over TCU in November of 2002 – was a nationally significant upset over a Horned Frog team that finished 10-2 with a Liberty Bowl win and No. 22 in the final coaches poll.
Entering this game against Virginia Tech (1-1 with the loss to No. 1 Alabama), McNeill’s most dramatic game days hit during his first season. That 2010 team opened with a miraculous 51-49 win over Tulsa in Ficklen and then staged a near replay in a 44-43 win over Southern Miss.
But it was a 33-27 overtime win over N.C. State and Russell Wilson on Oct. 16 in Greenville that still rates as McNeill’s landmark achievement. That came shortly after losses to Virginia Tech and UNC and left the Pirates at 5-2 with what seemed to be a clear path to the Conference USA title game.
Then the defense collapsed, resulting in a 6-7 final record and a brutal 51-20 bowl loss to Maryland.
Since that win over the Wolfpack, McNeill’s teams have scored a ton of points and played in as many photo-finish games as any team around. There’s hardly been a dull moment, straight through a touchy 52-38 win over Old Dominion two weeks ago in the season opener.
After the Hokies, who are favored by eight points, the Pirates will have only three remaining home games and six on the road, including trips to UNC (Sept. 28) and State (Nov. 23).
McNeill needs a second big-splash win, and this may be his best opportunity for a while.
If McNeill could use a lift Saturday, Texas’ Mack Brown faces as much of a must-win situation as any coach out there.
After last week’s 40-21 loss at Brigham Young (which lost to Virginia in its opener), Brown got the always uncomfortable vote of support from his athletic director. The mood was so ugly back in Austin that Longhorn AD DeLoss Dodds had to make a statement that there would be no coaching change.
Well, make that no head coaching change. Brown, the former UNC head coach, immediately fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, the former N.C. State assistant, after the game at Provo. Against Ole Miss (2-0) Saturday (8 p.m.), Greg Anderson will be in charge of the defense.
“I thought Manny would do great ... I didn't think this was going to happen,'' Brown said.
Closer to home, Wake Forest coaching fixture Jim Grobe hardly needs to take a hit from Louisiana-Monroe (1-1) on Saturday (12:30 p.m.) in Winston-Salem.
Into his 13th season with the Deacons, Grobe is again below .500 overall (74-75 after last week’s ugly loss at Boston College) and obviously groping for offensive answers.
After winning the ACC title in 2006 and going 28-12 during a three-year period, Grobe hasn’t finished a season with a winning record since 2009.
Although no one expected this Wake team to challenge for another league title, or even the Atlantic Division top spot, Grobe was the first to say much success over last season’s 5-7 record was a must. A loss Saturday may make that plan impossible.