With the Pirates taking 12 days in August to recover from and stop a spike in COVID-19 cases associated with the football team, the athletic department viewed the Sept. 12 season-opener against Marshall as impractical, and postponed it to a date to be determined.

That decision gives ECU two additional weeks to prepare for its first game of the 2020 season, which will now come against a potentially nationally ranked UCF team on Sept. 26.

“I think there’s good and bad,” head football coach Mike Houston said regarding the additional time before game No. 1. “The reason for us pushing back so long is because of having the outbreak and having the 12-day pause. Obviously we didn’t improve any there, probably took a step back. Having an extra week now before the opener after we’ve gotten everybody back, I think it does give you an opportunity to iron out some things with some young kids.”

The time off disproportionately impacted ECU’s defense, in part, because of the youth and inexperience present on that side of the football. Since resuming activities, the coaching staff has been reteaching many parts of the scheme to the young players, while also working multiple situations that could pop-up in-game.

“We’re working so many situations this week,” Houston said on Tuesday. “Today we were working late-game special teams situations. We’re going to continue to work all that throughout this week. It gives you maybe a little bit more time with that stuff than what you’ve had in the past.”

While practices since the pause was lifted have centered around conditioning, Houston said he wanted to approach this week like a game week. That means working on situational drills with all three phases of the team and building upon a mini-scrimmage on Saturday that offered some competitive moments.

On special teams specifically, the Pirates are working on repping many different game scenarios, as well as getting the kinks worked out of coverage units and substitution packages.

“We’re doing a lot everyday, we did a lot of live work with some special teams last Saturday,” Houston said. “Today we worked our coverage units, kick-off and punt. We worked late-game field goal situations and substitutions and stuff like that. Each day we’ve got a different emphasis and each day we have some late-game special team situations also.”

With kicker Jake Verity and punter Jonn Young both back, college football expert Phil Steele has the Pirates’ special teams unit ranked 25th-best in the country and second-best in the American Athletic Conference behind Memphis.

The reasoning for that lofty ranking hinge on Verity and Young turning in solid seasons once again. In 2019, Verity connected on 24 of 29 field goal attempts and went a perfect 33-for-33 on extra points. Young averaged better than 40 yards per punt when healthy and placed 15 of his 60 total boots within the 20-yard line.

A little more than two weeks before ECU kicks off against UCF, Houston and the coaching staff have scrimmage No. 3 planned for Friday. Originally, the Pirates were going to get in their third scrimmage in mid-August, but the pause in activities ruined that plan and bumped it back to this week.

The last before ECU begins its season, Houston wants to squeeze as much as possible into this scrimmage to ensure some of his younger players are prepared for any possible situation that may come up during a game.

“Hopefully as long as we don’t miss a day this week, we’re going to have that Friday afternoon,” Houston said. “We’re working towards that and really want to get a lot of situations there with officials. We had officials here last Saturday for practice and had some competitive live work there with some situations. Now you’re just trying to get guys experience in those different things that come up during the game, especially with the late-game stuff. We’d like to get that done Friday afternoon and then give the guys a little bit of time off their legs Saturday. We’ll look at the film Sunday and then start getting ready for UCF.”

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