Through two games and two subsequent losses by multiple scores, ECU football is still searching for its identity as a team. With such a young football team, especially on the defensive side of the ball, that is to be expected early in the season, but that does not take any of the sting out of an 0-2 start.

“That’s the big question right now,” ECU head coach Mike Houston said after Saturday’s 49-29 loss to Georgia State. “You thought you had a few things coming into the season. Obviously what you do on the field shows your true identity. I know what I want it to be, I know what teams I have coached in the past are and we certainly are not that yet. Hopefully we can use every experience to improve. Every experience for some of these guys is their first. Hopefully they can learn from that and be better the next time.”

Against Georgia State, the Pirates saw two first-time starters in Avery Jones and Shane Calhoun absorb significant snaps, while 10 brand new starters took the field in ECU’s season-opener against UCF. 

Many of those on the defensive side of the ball, the Pirates returned a hefty portion of their offensive snaps from a season ago, leading many to wonder just how good that unit could be in 2020. With a young defense needing development under a new defensive coordinator, ECU hoped its offense could provide enough firepower to keep the team competitive against good competition.

Thus far, that formula has failed to work out and the Pirates will enter their third game of the season 53rd in the FBS in total yards per game at 375.5. In a normal year, that number would put ECU in the upper half of the country, but with only 74 teams having played a game at this point in the season, it means they are in the bottom-third of those rankings.

“Certainly we all have higher expectations for how we perform on the field,” Houston said. “Disappointed we didn’t get that output, certainly would have made a huge difference in the ball game. Certainly excited to get two special teams scores and to get a defensive score. We just got to improve on that side of the football — we got to improve everywhere — but we obviously got to improve on that side of the football this week.”

A storyline coming out of preseason camp was the strides quarterback Holton Ahlers made with his accuracy. Coming off a career-best 60% completion percentage in 2019, Ahlers could not break the 50% mark against UCF and currently sits at 54.4% on the year. As a team, the Pirates are 66th in the country with a 53.1% completion percentage and own the 67th-best team pass efficiency rating at 102.82.

With struggles keeping personnel healthy along the offensive line early in the season, Ahlers has been on the run a decent amount. Through two games, ECU’s front five has allowed six sacks, including four against Georgia State a week ago.

While the offense is scoring 28.5 points per game through two contests, that number can be a bit misleading. Of ECU’s 57 total points scored, 27 have come in the fourth quarter with the Pirates trailing by multiple touchdowns. Only 14 of those points are first quarter points, with both of those touchdowns coming in the first four minutes of the game.

From an opening drive touchdown against UCF and an interception return touchdown six seconds into the game against Georgia State, the Pirates’ offense failed to score again until deep in the first half. That has resulted in ECU being outscored 31-6 in the second quarter alone.

Two games into the season, ECU’s defense has struggled mightily to the tune of allowing 50 points per game. Thus far, the offense remains largely unable to move the football effectively despite some very limited bright spots. Getting the offensive unit back on track will likely go a long way in helping ECU figure out its current identity crisis and overcome a leaky defense.

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