Junior Brandon Williams tallied a career-high nine tackles against FAU
Sep 6, 2013
By Bill Woodward
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Maybe it was the black uniforms. Most definitely, the team on the other side of the field made a difference.
But it was also a different ECU defensive team took the field on Thursday night against Florida Atlantic.
After giving up 38 points in a long evening against Old Dominion and talented quarterback Taylor Heinicke last week, the Pirates held FAU to a pair of field goals until a late throwaway touchdown in a 31-13 victory.
Three turnovers - two interceptions and a fumble recovery - gave the Pirates a big boost. Six sacks were the result of much better containment by the ECU defenders.
Adjustments were made in the short week between the ODU game and Thursday's Conference USA victory.
"(We stressed) great run gap integrity, great pass lane integrity, keep covering them on the back end and containing the quarterback," McNeill said. "And takeaways. We did a good job of that."
The ECU defense knew they was work to be done, improvements to be made, said Maurice Falls, who picked off a pass against the Owls.
"We needed to play better than we did last week," said Falls, a junior linebacker. "We had to go out there and play the way we can. We went there and played and had fun.
"We were move aggressive this week. We came out and tried to minimize their mistakes."
Falls had a big moment in the second quarter, when he grabbed a pass out of the air after it popped out of the hands of the intended FAU receiver. Falls caught the ball at the 30 and returned it 18 yards to the Owls' 12 - setting up a touchdown run by Vintavious Cooper that made it 21-6.
"I said, `Oh man, here it comes,' "Falls said of seeing the ball in midair right in front of him. "And I went up there and caught it. I tried to take it back but they tackled me.
"It was close."
The improved defense was not a matter of changing approaches, but rather of a case of minimizing mistakes, Falls said.
"Last week, we had a lot of mistakes," Falls continued. "This week, we corrected most of them. We just came out and played."
The Pirates' defense wasn't a surprise to ECU quarterback Shane Carden, who carried the load last week with a school-record 447 yards passing and five touchdowns.
"We weren't worried about the defense," Carden said. "We knew they would step up. That was a good team we played last week. They stepped up big tonight and shut down the run.
"If we get the defense playing like they did tonight and the offense playing like it did last week, this team is going to be very hard to beat."
For McNeill, a big key for the defense was the ability to utilize a lot of players on defense. Falls is a back-up linebacker. Reserve linebackers Brandon Williams and Zeek Bigger shared the team lead in tackles with nine.
"We rotated a lot of guys in there tonight," McNeill said. "Six guys played outside positions. One of the things that I have always talked about is developing depth."
It was not about a lack of effort by the defense in last week's opener.
"We made adjustments," McNeill added. "I was proud that the kids did a good job of taking the changes from the practice field to the game field tonight.
"It was the first game last week. I know everybody has high expectations. The kids did a good job of adjusting and getting better. I was proud of that."