The East Carolina Pirates have made no doubt under head coach Ruffin McNeill that the preferred offense is a fast paced air raid attack. The Pirates finished the 2014 season second in the nation in passing attempts, trailing only Washington State and McNeill's former boss Mike Leach in the category. Their 637 pass attempts were 73 more than third place Arizona and the 371.9 yards per game was third nationally behind Washington State and Western Kentucky.
After a while, you have to ask yourself if going the extreme pass happy route is the best or should East Carolina find a more moderate route with a better balance between the run and the pass and a bit of a slow down in the constant hurry up offense. During McNeill's five seasons as the East Carolina head coach, the Pirates have lost 5+ games four times. During the first two seasons, the offense was extremely tilted towards the passing game with a 64%/36% pass/run in 2010 and a 57/43 in 2011. During those seasons, the Pirates went 11-14.
Starting in 2012, East Carolina went closer to even with a 52/48 pass to run percentage behind the running of Vintavious Cooper (200/1,049/7TD) and improved to 8-5. One would have thought that the stronger dedication to the run game would have helped the defense but with the fast paced, hurry up philosophies of McNeill's offense the defense struggled in giving up over 30 points six times and over 40 points four times.
Finding a happy medium with a reliable ball carrier in 2013 as Cooper carried the ball 230 times for 1,193 yards and 13 touchdowns, East Carolina had the only 10 win season under McNeill. 2014 saw McNeill and company go more of the pass happy route at 60/40 and fell back to 8-5.
Speed of play is a huge factor with the Pirates with getting to the line of scrimmage and running plays quickly only works if you have a defense that can recover quickly and spend large amounts of time on the field. It is a similar problem as Western Kentucky in 2014 with both team in the top three in passing yards per game but with disappointing defenses.
What these statistics show is that when East Carolina goes into their super fast hurry up passing attack, it leaves more time on the clock for the defense to be picked apart. The Pirates has their best defense on paper since McNeill took over and an experienced and talented offensive line. That is in addition to an inexperienced quarterback. With running backs Chris Hairston (6.7 ypc. in 2014), Marquez Grayson (6.1 ypc in 2014), and Anthony Scott (4.9 ypc. in 2014) in the backfield, it makes sense to rely on the run game.
If East Carolina goes out an throws the ball 600+ times this fall, they will be a run of the mill AAC team and probably again go to an oddly timed bowl versus a less than interested opponent. If they slow down and rely on the rushing attack and try to give the defense some rest, we are looking at a team that could easily win the AAC crown this fall. Based on McNeill and his philosophies, I expect ECU to throw the ball way too much and end up losing at least two games they should have won.