Last season was a promising one in many ways for supporters of the ECU football program. Mike Houston’s first year in Greenville, North Carolina brought a four-win season, eclipsing a trio of 3-9 campaigns under Scottie Montgomery while the offense flashed signs of its potential.

A tangible step forward in the win column, the Pirates’ season could really be broken down into two six-game halves. The first half featured two wins over FCS competition and three victories total while quarterback Holton Ahlers, as well as the rest of the offense, attempted to adapt to Houston’s new scheme.

During that time, offensive ECU’s offensive numbers struggled, with the Pirates averaging just 202.7 passing yards and 20.7 points per game. Convincing losses at the hands of NC State and Navy highlighted the need for both the offense and defense to get on the right track if the Pirates wanted to salvage their season.

While the offense, behind a fantastic second half by Ahlers, found its groove, the defense never did, resulting in a 1-5 finish to the campaign.

Heading into an uncertain season stemming from the COVID-19 virus, there is still plenty of optimism surrounding ECU’s football program despite some heavy turnover on the defensive side of the ball. On the flip side, the Pirates’ offense has an opportunity to put together a truly special season behind their rising junior quarterback and a trio of top-tier wide receivers in C.J. Johnson, Tyler Snead and Blake Proehl.

With such a disparity existing between the two sides of the football for the Pirates, it is possible ECU could approach historic numbers in 2020, both offensively and defensively, albeit on two separate ends of the spectrum.

Below, let’s dive into how that could be possible, starting with an offense that rivaled the 2019 National Champions over the final six games of the season.

High-flying Offense

Ahlers eclipsed nearly 3,400 passing yards in 2019 thanks, in part, to huge games down the stretch. In a 46-43 loss to Cincinnati, the southpaw quarterback tossed for a program-record 535 yards, just to follow that up with a 498-yard effort against SMU a week later.

Those numbers helped the Pirates average 375 passing yards over their six games and nearly 497 total yards per contest in the same time span. For perspective, ECU averaged 363.5 total yards and just over 202 passing yards per game in the season’s first six games of 2019.

Behind Ahlers’ break-out effort, ECU approached 33 points scored in its last six-pack of games while finding the end-zone 16 times through the air in that time.

For a comparison, let’s use LSU’s offensive numbers from the 2019 season. Many consider the Tigers to have had one of the best offensive campaigns in recent memory as quarterback Joe Burrow tossed 60 touchdowns to lead his time to a national title.

The numbers we will be comparing are LSU’s full-season per game average to ECU’s second half numbers that include the aforementioned six-game sample.

StatisticLSU (Full 2019 Season)ECU (2nd Half of 2019)
Passing Yards Per Game401.6375
Rushing Yards Per Game166.9121.8
Points Per Game48.432.8
Total Yards Per Game568.5496.8

While not necessarily an apples to apples comparison, ECU finished the 2019 season inside the top-50 nationally in yards per game, passing yards per game and offensive first downs.

Broken down by half seasons, ECU ranked among the nation’s best in the latter portion of the year. Unable to translate that to wins, the Pirates can now draw off what was successful in 2019 and apply it to 2020 to hopefully generate those victories. With much of the same personnel returning from last year, that becomes much more easy for Houston and his staff.

With some tweaks and solid seasons from the offensive core, it will be interesting to see if the Pirates can carry over their second half success into 2020 on that side of the football.

High Turnover on Defense

Unfortunately that heading is not in reference to ECU generating turnovers against opposing offenses, but rather the amount of turnover in personnel the Pirates’ defense has seen since the end of 2019.

With Gerard Stringer expected to miss the entire 2020 season after suffering an ankle injury, seven of ECU’s 11 full-time starters last season will not take the field this year. Of that group, the entire defensive line is no longer on the roster, while Daniel Charles and Colby Gore are vacant from the secondary.

Only Bruce Bivens, Aaron Ramseur, Xavier Smith, Myles Berry, Ja’Quan McMillian and Davondre Robinson made at least one start in 2019 and remain on the roster.

With young, inexperienced players expected to play a large role in new defensive coordinator Blake Harrell’s defense this year, there figures to be a lot of growing pains. For a group that struggled mightily in 2019, those growing pains could result in some gaudy numbers allowed to opposing offenses.

As the offense found its way toward the end of 2019, ECU’s defense only seemed to slip further. Belong is a comparison between the Pirates’ first and second half defensive numbers.

StatisticFirst HalfSecond Half
Points Allowed Per Game23.344
Passing Yards Allowed Per Game201.3321.8
Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game165.7249.8
Yards Allowed Per Game367571.7

Extrapolated over a full season, ECU’s second half defensive numbers would rival some of the worst team efforts in college football history.

All told, the Pirates finished the 2019 season 119th in the FBS in yards allowed per game at 469.3 and 111th in points allowed per game at 33.7. Under Harrell’s guidance this year and with another recruiting class under Houston on the roster, however, the hope is those numbers could make a huge rebound in 2020.

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