09/12/10 — ECU defense sparks win over Memphis

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ECU defense sparks win over Memphis

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on September 12, 2010 1:50 AM

GREENVILLE -- East Carolina's defensive unit welcomed back two key players and showed more signs of improvement Saturday afternoon.

But it's still not satisfied.

The Pirates coaxed Conference USA rival Memphis into four turnovers and converted three into touchdowns during a resounding 49-27 victory at Bagwell Field inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. ECU improved to 2-0 overall for the third consecutive season, while Memphis exited with an 0-2 record.

"A big win," said Pirates head coach Ruffin McNeill. "After a big win last week against Tulsa and the magnitude (of how) we won the game, coming back and having another conference opponent in a short week, I thought the kids did a good job of rising up and overcoming some adversity today."

Tackle Antonio Allison and nose guard Michael Brooks, each listed as a questionable starter, made a huge impact in their return to the defensive line. The duo helped coerce the Tigers into the early-game mistakes that quickly took coach Larry Porter's team out of the game.

Memphis turned the ball over on its first two possessions.

A bad snap deflected off starting quarterback Cannon Smith's facemask and ECU lineman Josh Smith recovered the fumble. The Pirates needed three plays to go ahead 7-0.

Derek Blacknall intercepted Smith on the Tigers' next possession and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown. After a Memphis field goal, another turnover put the Pirates in business and led to an insurmountable 28-3 advantage.

"We got off to a very slow start," said Memphis head coach Larry Porter. "We put our defense in some tough situations."

The Pirates have forced 17 turnovers in their last seven games, and converted 13 into scores, including nine touchdowns. The ECU defense has caused at least one turnover in 32 consecutive games.

But Blacknall and senior linebacker Dustin Lineback, along with their teammates, weren't completely satisfied with the effort. Three big plays allowed Memphis to compile 27 points.

Still, 27 is better than the 49 ECU's defense surrendered a week ago in its wild, season-opening win over Tulsa. And the Pirates limited the Tigers to just six third-down conversions compared to giving up 11 successful third-down tries to the Golden Hurricane last week.

Lineback logged 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks. The Pirates recorded five sacks as a team.

"Antonio and Michael, they stepped up, got penetration on a couple of blitzes and sacks that I had," said Lineback. "Their offensive linemen were too focused on that defensive line, they wouldn't even pick me up. I give credit to the defensive linemen because they did a great job.

"We polished things off, we got better. Take away three big plays and they've got (just) three points on the board. We've got to keep working."

East Carolina (2-0, 2-0 CUSA) begins a three-game road swing Saturday at winless Virginia Tech.