By Nathan Summers
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Suddenly, East Carolina is the team the rest of the American Athletic Conference doesn’t want to see next on the schedule, and guys like Montese Overton aren’t helping to soothe the Pirates’ fear factor much.
Although No. 18 ECU (5-1, 2-0 AAC) is built on the offense manned by senior quarterback Shane Carden, the ECU defense is beginning to instill some of the same kind of fear in opponents that helped drive the Pirates to consecutive Conference USA championships in the late 2000s. ECU’s unforgiving run defense and fierce front seven is getting championship caliber results once again.
“It starts with the D-line, but for us it’s great pad level when we come off the ball and great force,” said Overton, a junior outside linebacker who helps to lead the top-rated run defense in the American, which allows a mere 104.2 yards per game. “But we really ride our defensive line’s backs, and that’s how we stop the run.”
By erasing the run so quickly in games, the Pirates are forcing teams to go with their Plan B much sooner.
In the case of Thursday opponent Connecticut (1-5, 0-3), there has been little offense to offer so far, but if the Huskies are to have any hope against the Pirates, they will have to establish a ground game against Overton (first on the team with 5.5 tackles for loss and third with 36 total stops) and inside LBs Zeek Bigger (team-high 70 tackles) and Brandon Williams (49 tackles, five TFLs, 2.5 sacks).
Previous opponent South Florida tried to surprise ECU with a few long passes and UConn might follow a similar blueprint, but Overton said the way to beat an anything-goes mentality on offense is with basic, panic-free defense.
“We’ve all got to play our assignments and do our jobs, and if UConn comes out the first play of the game with a pass, the (defensive backs) have to know to stay back in coverage and know that we’ve got the run up front,” said Overton, who starred at South Central High School.
Justin Hardy has never been one to beat his chest after big plays or even after one of his school-record 30 TD catches. The senior all-time ECU receiving leader also isn’t much for complaining when other Pirate pass-catchers steal the spotlight.
For the second time this season, Hardy (team-high 47 receptions, 593 yards and five TDs) had double-digit receptions for more than 100 yards without a TD against South Florida. And although he is comfortably on pace to become the first three-time 1,000-yard receiver in ECU history, Hardy remains squarely focused on wins and end results, and knows just how big his team’s comeback win over the Bulls was.
“All year long and all summer and all camp, our coaches talked to us about adversity and that at some point we’re going to face adversity and we’ve got to overcome it,” said Hardy, who had his first career three-TD game against SMU on Oct. 4. “It was real big (beating USF). As the season continues, we’re going to get everybody’s best shot so we’ve got to be prepared for that.”
The ugliest thing about the USF game for ECU was its 12 penalties, of which more than half were personal fouls.
The Pirates focused a good deal on making that less of a hot topic during its second bye week, and the focus continued in the final days before Thursday’s game.
“Technique-wise, we’ve got to do some things different, and (the officials) are calling it a little different than they did last year,” ECU quarterback Shane Carden said. “There is an extra referee and we’ve got to understand that we can complain about it but they’re still going to call them. We’ve got to play better and play more disciplined.”