Over half of ECU’s 386 total yards of offense on Saturday afternoon came in the fourth quarter. If that 15 minutes stood by itself, the Pirates would have beaten Tulane […]
Over half of ECU’s 386 total yards of offense on Saturday afternoon came in the fourth quarter. If that 15 minutes stood by itself, the Pirates would have beaten Tulane but unfortunately for the home squad, three other quarters were played, resulting in a 38-21 Green Wave victory.
“Obviously disappointed not to get the win today,” ECU head coach Mike Houston said postgame. “I thought Tulane played really well, very good football team. They’re exactly the kind of team I expected from coach Fritz. He’s done a great job, especially with those fronts. I thought they did a really good job up front on both sides of the football.”
One of the more experienced defensive fronts that ECU will face all season, Tulane limited what the Pirates did on the ground to just 35 yards on 29 carries. Rahjai Harris saw his streak of three consecutive 100-yard rushing games snapped with his 27-yard effort on Saturday.
Entering the game, ECU was averaging 4.5 yards per carry and nearly 180 rushing yards per contest. Freshman Keaton Mitchell managed the best average per carry for the Pirates on Saturday at 2.4 yards as the home team failed to average 1.5 yards per rush attempt against Tulane.
“Obviously they did a great job and they had a solid plan to take it away from us,” Houston said. “We got to see why that happened. I know that several times today we’d have one guy getting beat for one reason or another, so we’ve got to look at why that happened. Did that happen because of technique? Did that happen because we’re tipping something formationally or alignment-wise? We got to figure out why that happened that they were able to nullify us to the extent that they did today.”
For three quarters, ECU struggled to get much going offensively, either through the air or with the run game. A 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive on ECU’s first possession of the ball game quickly gave way to nine consecutive empty drives.
Six of those drives resulted in punts, with none spanning more than 40 yards. That inability to move the football kept the Pirates under 100 yards in each of the game’s first three quarters, including just 22 total yards in the third quarter.
Immediately following Tulane’s opening drive touchdown — a 35-yard strike from freshman quarterback Michael Pratt To Duece Watts — ECU’s defense held the Green Wave to three punts of their own.
The game still tied at seven mid-way through the second quarter, ECU elected to go for it on fourth down and very short from the Tulane side of the field. The Pirates were stuffed, leading to great field position for the Green Wave. Four plays later, Tulane was in the end zone, kicking off a stretch of four scoring drives across the next five possessions.
“I thought not getting the fourth down there when I went for it at mid-field in the first half obviously gave them good field position, they capitalized on that,” Houston said. “The missed field goal there gave them really good field position there in the second quarter. They were able to capitalize on that and I really thought they got the momentum there going into half. (We) struggled coming out of the locker room in the third quarter to get the momentum back.”
Two touchdown passes from Pratt in a span of seven minutes of game action put ECU firmly behind the eight ball down 21-7 at the half. Able to begin teeing off on the Pirates with pressures and blitzes meant an even tougher time moving the football while Tulane tacked on to its lead.
Ten points in the third quarter pushed Tulane’s streak to 24 unanswered points and made a comeback all but impossible for a Pirate team trailing 31-7 at the end of three quarters.
“In the first half if you’re able to run the football effectively the score is not 21-7 at the half,” Houston said. “We had to be able to run the ball in order to win this football game and we weren’t able to. It’s one of those things where we don’t want to be one-dimensional either way. We want to be able to throw it effectively and run it effectively. We did some good things in the passing game — we put up some big numbers — but you’re just not going to win consistently if you can’t run the football.”
Down by a bunch, ECU had its shot to get back in the football game. Trailing 38-15 with five minutes left in the contest, junior quarterback Holton Ahlers found Blake Proehl for the signal-caller’s third touchdown of the day. A 75-yard catch and run, ECU pulled back to within 17 points at 38-21 following a failed two-point conversion attempt.
Seeking points quickly, the Pirates attempted and successfully recovered an on-side kick just to fumble to ball away on a strip sack on the first offensive play.
“There were plays there, we had our chances…You got to take advantage of those opportunities because you’re not going to get many against a solid ball team like that,” Houston said. “Hats off to them. I thought they played very, very well. It’s another growing experience for our guys. I thought that we did really battle. It just didn’t work out for us today.”
In the fourth quarter alone, Ahlers racked up 195 of his 351 passing yards as the Pirates averaged 7.6 yards per play in the final 15 minutes. While that looks good in the box score, ECU needed that performance from Ahlers — as well as the rest of the team — early in the game. With that, the home team might have had a shot to beat Tulane on Saturday.
While ECU largely was not able to throw the football, Proehl enjoyed a massive day in the pass-catching department. His game-high 182 yards on 13 receptions netted him two career-bests and tied another with his two touchdown grabs. Proehl also bested his career-long reception with the 75-yarder in the fourth quarter.
On the defensive side, Bruce Bivens matched Proehl’s 13 catches with 13 tackles, including two for a loss of yardage. Nevertheless, Tulane seemed to be able to move the football through the air with ease on Saturday as Pratt added three touchdowns to his ledger.
In the second and third quarter, Tulane got its run game going and finished the day with 277 yards and two scores on the ground. All told, the Green Wave nearly eclipsed the 500-yard mark offensively and scored 30 points for the sixth-straight game.
Moving forward for the Pirates, Houston wants to see his team play better after receiving praise. Last Friday, ECU was robbed of a potential victory against Tulsa after out-playing the Golden Hurricane for four quarters. A week before that, the Pirates narrowly lost to Navy, signaling a possible turning of the program.
With Saturday’s set-back, however, Houston would like to see his team get better at blocking out the noise.
“It’s a lesson we’ve got to continue to learn and I’ve preached it since I got here,” Houston said. “We saw it so many times last year. We didn’t see it last week after a great performance against Navy, but you saw a little bit of it today. It’s learning how to play with praise, learning how to be a winner. The championship teams I’ve had that have strung together these enormously long winning streaks, they were so able to compartmentalize things week-to-week of this game this week is the biggest game of the year because it’s the next one.
“You have to respect your opponent. The one time you don’t respect the group lining up on the other side of the field from you, you get your tail beat. Certainly I think our kids respected our opponent today, but I think maybe we just didn’t quite have that same edge we’ve had the last couple of weeks.”
ECU will be back in action Friday night when it faces off against Cincinnati on the road. Kick-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. with the game being televised on ESPN2.