While East Carolina University had been preparing for its football game against James Madison University, the Dukes’ running back Cardon Johnson looked like he was getting ready for a track meet as he ran away with the game Saturday.
If the Pirates thought it was the JMU quarterback, Bryan Schor, they had to be worried about, they were sadly mistaken. All Schor had to do in Saturday's 34-14 lopsided win was handle the snap, hand it off and get out of the way; Johnson did the rest.
Singlehandedly, Johnson, a redshirt senior, carried his Dukes to an explosive night on the offensive side of the ball. The JMU running back scampered for 265 and two touchdowns on just 17 carries, finishing the game averaging over 15 yards per rush. He erased any hope Pirate fans had on the first snap of the second half, taking a run up the middle 85 yards right into the endzone in front of thousands of silent Pirate fans. He also had an 80-yard touchdown rush in the game.
"We know we're better than this," Pirates defensive lineman Kiante Anderson said. "We just have to keep our technique under pressure and focus. We need to play the next every time."
Even though it’s the defense who will take the blame all week, head coach Scottie Montgomery thought the problems started on the other side of the ball. Gardner Minshew started the game struggling to complete his first pass, while the Pirates running backs and offensive lines floundered when trying to establish a run game. Without being able to move the ball themselves, Montgomery thought his team put too much of a burden on the defense.
"I think we started to stress our defense a little bit by trying to ask them to go create turnovers and put the pressure on their offense because we weren't doing anything on offense ourselves," Montgomery said. "They felt the stress and the pressure of trying to go make plays the second half because we couldn't move the ball."
Saturday's game was the unveiling of Montgomery's and defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson's 4-2-5 defense. While the five defensive backs were able to force an interception and keep big plays in the passing game in front of them, the defensive line was overpowered by the JMU offense, leaving two linebackers to clean up the rest. Obviously, that didn't go so well.
The work load this defensive scheme puts on the linebackers was evident by the Pirates’ two linebackers, Jordan Williams and Ray Tillman, leading the team with 14 tackles and eight tackles respectively. Neither player thought the new defense was the problem however, instead they took the responsibly and know what they have to work on.
"Guys got to be responsible for their gaps," Williams said. “Some guys were not gapped out and that left open gaps every other play. We just got to get that down.”
Now it’s time for ECU to turn its attention to West Virginia, because if the Pirates have any hopes of winning, none of their attention can be focused on what happened this past weekend.
Going into Morgantown will be a tough task in its own right, but after Johnson became the first running back to rush for over 200 yards against the Pirates since 2010, WVU running back Justin Crawford demands full attention of the ECU coaching staff. Crawford enters the season as the Big-12's defending Offensive Newcomer after rushing for 1,184 yards, despite starting just four games.
The Pirates will vie to make up for the frustrating loss this Saturday at noon in the home of the Mountaineers. West Virginia is fresh off a loss against ECU’s next opponent Virginia Tech.