ECU feeling less pressure now that defense is finally applying some of its own

After five games without a sack, it was almost as if East Carolinas defense had forgotten how to do it ... until Dayon Pratt finally ended the drought and opened the floodgates

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
East Carolina Pirates defensive back DaShaun Amos (39) and East Carolina Pirates linebacker Dayon Pratt (1) take down North Carolina State Wolfpack wide receiver Bra'Lon Cherry (13) as he returns a reception in the fourth half of the college football game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville

GREENVILLE — After five games without a sack, it was almost as if East Carolina’s defense had forgotten how to do it.Twice in the first quarter Saturday, the Pirates had UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs trapped in the backfield only to let him escape for a short gain. Finally, with 3 and a half minutes left in the first half, outside linebacker Dayon Pratt came off the edge on the right side of the line and tackled Shirreffs for a four-yard loss.The pivotal play not only stalled a Huskies’ drive, forcing them to settle for a field goal that would turn out to be their only points of the game, but it also ended a five-game sack drought — the longest in school history.”It was like, ‘Oh, we can actually do this’ and it just opened the floodgates at that point,” inside linebacker Cam White said. “Everybody did a great job putting pressure on [Shirreffs]. He wasn’t comfortable back there at all today.”The Pirates had recorded only one sack all season before Saturday. That came all the way back in the second game of the season, on Sept. 10, when Pratt dropped N.C. State’s Ryan Finley for an eight-yard loss.Once Pratt reminded his teammates how it’s done, those floodgates White mentioned actually did open up.ECU kept the pressure on Shirreffs and dropped him three more times in the second half, quadrupling its season total in just 60 dominant minutes that led to a 41-3 victory and the end of a frustrating five-game losing streak. In addition to the four sacks, the Pirates also recorded five quarterback hurries.Although coach Scottie Montgomery and defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson made some personnel changes for the game — including not playing leading tackler Terrell Richardson — nickleback Deshaun Amos said the difference in the Pirates’ defensive performance was more mental than physical.”We’ve always worked hard. We’ve always put our heart in everything. But we went in with a different mindset,” said Amos, who along with fellow defensive back Colby Gore and linebacker Jordan Williams, recorded ECU’s other sacks Saturday.”It was just have fun, play for each other. You saw the outcome. Guys made plays.”Not only did they make them in the Huskies’ backfield, but the extra pressure provided by the improved pass rush paid dividends on the back end as well.The Pirates’ young secondary also benefited from Shirreffs having less time to stand in the pocket and find receivers. Not only were they credited with four pass breakups, cornerbacks Gore and Bobby Fulp both intercepted passes to help their team to a plus-three turnover advantage.ECU had come into the game at minus-12, by far the worst margin in the American Athletic Conference.”The effort and enthusiasm met the execution,” Montgomery said. “That’s probably close to a complete game that we’ve had at any time this year.”I thought that Kenwick Thompson worked as hard as any coach I’ve seen this week at getting those guys to understand that bringing pressure, whether it was the corner, whether it was the nickle, whether it was the safety, whether it was the backer and then putting stress on our corners to cover one-on-one. They did a really good job.”As good as the Pirates’ defense was against UConn, there’s still room for further growth.”What a lot of people don’t know is that we’re screaming and yelling on the sideline defensively,” Montgomery said. “A couple of times maybe the coverage wasn’t quite the way we wanted, but we got home. That’s kind of how the game went.”In some games we’ve not gotten home and the coverage hasn’t been right. Now that we’ve cleaned up some of those small details, I’m very happy we were able to come out and transition into a new direction from a pressure standpoint and creating turnovers.”Like his coach, Amos is hoping that Saturday’s defensive performance will have a carryover effect for the remaining games on East Carolina’s schedule.The Pirates, who moved to 3-5 and 1-3 in the American Athletic Conference after beating UConn, need three more wins to become bowl eligible.”We knew we were a good team, we just haven’t gotten those outcomes due to mistakes and different circumstances,” Amos said. “To put it out on the field and get a W is a big confidence booster that can snowball into the next game.”