NCF Nation: Ruffin McNeill

ECU looks to do it again vs. ACC

September, 16, 2014
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Ruffin McNeill has not approached East Carolina's rugged three-game nonconference stretch here as proving grounds. The fifth-year Pirates coach has always believed his teams belong with whoever they're playing, Power 5 program or not. They entered South Carolina two weeks ago intending to leave with a win, the same way they entered this past weekend at Virginia Tech, the same way they will approach a home tilt with North Carolina this Saturday.

"We did not go down thinking 'upset,'" McNeill told ESPN.com, referring to the loss to the Gamecocks. "We went down expecting to win, and that's saying it as humble as I can. And that's how much I believe in our staff and our team."

[+] EnlargeShane Carden
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsThrough three games this season, East Carolina senior QB Shane Carden has already thrown for 1,031 yards and seven touchdowns.
Such a mentality hardly hindered ECU last season during its 100-plus mile trip to Chapel Hill, as the Pirates had their way with the Tar Heels in a 55-31 rout. It helped earn them more notoriety nationally three days ago in Blacksburg, Virginia, as they jumped on the Hokies early and scored late for a 28-21 win.

This week? ECU is actually favored over in-state neighbor UNC, the first-year American Athletic Conference program looking to make it back-to-back wins against the Heels before it embarks on league play.

"Oh it's been brought up since we lost to them," UNC safety Tim Scott said. "For 365. Every day our coaches remind us if we don't come ready to play, they already showed us the results when we don't come to play and this year we're trying to make sure that doesn't happen again."

To do that, UNC needs to do what it couldn't do last season, and what few have been able to do since, including NC State late in 2013: Stop Shane Carden.

Carden accounted for six total touchdowns last season against the Heels, throwing for 376 yards. Saturday at Virginia Tech, he was responsible for all four ECU touchdowns and threw for 427 yards. The Houston native's rise has mirrored that of his staff's, each in their fifth years in Greenville.

With McNeill getting hired at ECU roughly two weeks before signing day, Carden appeared to be Stephen F. Austin-bound. Former Texas Tech quarterback B.J. Symons, who had played for the Red Raiders while McNeill was an assistant there, called McNeill about Carden, whose dad was Symons' wife's boss. Carden visited ECU, was intrigued by the idea of running an offense designed by Mike Leach proteges and signed with the Pirates a week later.

"He's always been pretty strong on the mental toughness, the leadership, being one of the guys, the guy that they can rally behind," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Lincoln Riley told ESPN.com. "Some of that can be taught, but some of that is natural, God-given ability. Sometimes people just follow people and you can't really nail down exactly why. Some people just have that presence about them, and Shane has that."

Carden's first career pass was picked off, at South Carolina in 2012. But he found his footing late that year, leading the Pirates to five wins in their final six regular-season games, during which they scored 42 points per game. Last season, Carden finished in the top-10 nationally of virtually every passing category, leading ECU to a 10-3 mark while making a leap that McNeill described as going from the quarterback of the offense to the quarterback of the team.

"He works every day like he's losing his job, and he works on his craft," said McNeill, who played defensive back at ECU from 1976-80. "The kids call him cap'n: C-A-P-apostrophe-N."

The 31-year-old Riley, meanwhile, has become one of the hottest names on the assistant coaching circuit, based largely off his work with Carden and before that with Michael Crabtree, whom he mentored when coaching receivers at Texas Tech.

Everything seems to be falling into place right now for ECU, which has one of its favorite sons ushering it into this new era in a new league.

"I'm beginning to see it come into fruition, because one thing with Coach (Steve) Spurrier and Coach (Frank) Beamer: They don't just win for a season, they win for seasons, and I would like to get our program where it's understood that we are going to be successful for seasons, not a season," McNeill said. "And the belief and commitment to the team and belief and commitment to our mission and vision -- it's very important that that is continued."

Another win Saturday over a bigger program from down the road would only further that progress, as it would make ECU 4-1 against the ACC in the past two years and serve notice to the rest of its new league brethren.

"You always hear about teams that went undefeated or only lost one game and everybody says, 'Who'd they play?' And they don't have anything to show for it," Carden said. "Well, ECU always has a chance to play these good teams and give us a chance to put our name in the mix with some big-name schools if we go out and win those games."
1. Kent State first-year coach Darrell Hazell spent the past seven seasons as an Ohio State assistant. He recalls how the Buckeyes struggled with Ohio in 2008 and Navy in 2009, and hopes that No. 2 Alabama will take the Golden Flashes for granted Saturday. “It’s hard to get up every week,” Hazell said. “But you’ve got to tell your team you have to get up and play. Sometimes you can tell ‘em and tell ‘em as much as you want, but if they don’t do it, that’s when you get yourself in a dogfight in the latter part of the game.”

2. The spotlight on new offensive coordinators hired to perform an extreme makeover has been focused on Steve Kragthorpe of LSU, Charlie Weis of Florida and Bryan Harsin of Texas. But the coach who may get the best results is Kevin Rogers at Boston College. Sophomore Chase Rettig started last season and struggled for the Eagles. Under Rogers’ tutelage, Rettig is displaying new confidence. And Rettig also will have one of the best tailbacks in the nation, senior Montel Harris, to draw defensive attention.

3. East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said Monday that his team had weathered Hurricane Irene well over the weekend. McNeill had a tree fall and land on his house, but he and the rest of the Pirates escaped injury. He seized the opportunity to show his players video about the travails ECU suffered in 1999 when Hurricane Floyd savaged the campus. “At the end,” McNeill said in his news conference Monday, “I told the team that it was not a made-up movie. It did not have directors or actors. These were Pirates like you.”
1. SEC Media Days begin Wednesday, which mean that summer vacation has ended, as in the summer that Ohio State, Georgia Tech, et al, vacated victories and championships. Of course, there’s still that week in August when summer school grades arrive and suddenly a few players are no longer academically eligible. The full respite from bad news off the field may not arrive until Thursday, Sept. 1, when the season actually begins.

2. Here’s hoping that USC running back Marc Tyler comes back from his suspension and has a great senior season. Here’s hoping a guy who has frittered away one opportunity after another understands that he has one more chance to redeem his talent. Joking on camera about taking money, given the NCAA penalties that have taken away the Trojans’ chances at a national title or another bowl during Tyler’s career, sounds like something an immature kid would do. It was.

3. With nine new defensive starters, East Carolina finished 119th next in scoring defense last season, allowing 44 points per game. The Pirates assume that the young players who learned on the job will mature in 2011. The same goes for Ruffin McNeill’s coaching staff. Three of McNeill’s nine assistants are under 30, three more are 35 or younger. I’m surprised more mid-major head coaches haven’t gone young (inexpensive) to fill out their staffs. Smart move by McNeill, which is different from saying it will be successful.
East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill underwent hip replacement surgery late last week and was released from the hospital Monday.

Team spokesman Tom McClellan said McNeill was doing well and would spend two to three weeks at home doing private rehabilitation before returning to campus. In an interview last week before his surgery, McNeill was in good spirits. He decided to take control of his health this offseason, and has lost nearly 100 pounds since undergoing weight-loss surgery in January.

The surgery on his right hip was meant to get rid of arthritis that limited his ability to move and exercise.

"I'm excited about it," McNeill said last week. "I've been working out, trying to go into the surgery in as top a physical shape as I can. I hope that helps with recovery and rehabilitation. I've got a great team of doctors that have been working with me all year long, especially since the bowl game, so I am ready for this."
Saying East Carolina struggled on defense is a kind way around the obvious. The Pirates were downright bad at times, in part because of injuries, in part because of a lack of experience.

However you want to look at it, no one will argue that East Carolina has got to get better on defense if it wants to get back to winning C-USA championships. So defense was a point of emphasis during recently wrapped up spring drills.

The Pirates are moving to a 3-4 as many other teams have done, to take advantage of personnel and also help defend against the spread. The Pirates did nothing fancy during their 15 practices except basic fundamental installation.

“We wanted to make sure we got that solidified before we moved onto anything else,” coach Ruffin McNeill said in a recent phone interview. “It wasn’t something we did overnight. We had planned it after the last game. One of the things that made it an easy transition was I had been a part of the 3-4 defense, everyone on my staff had been a part of a 3-4 defense in the past. The coaches did a great job implementing the scheme.”

McNeill believes he has players on his team who “stand up on two legs and run around pretty good,” a basic tenant of running the 3-4.

Spring was only a glimpse, though. Several players went down with injuries, including junior college transfer defensive end Leroy Vick, who will be forced to redshirt this upcoming season after blowing out his knee. Projected starting linebacker Lamar McLendon quit the team during the spring.

Linebackers Marke Powell and Justin Dixon are going to be key components to the restructured defense when they return from injuries. There also will be high expectations for junior college transfers John Lattimore and JoJo Blanks when they arrive on campus.

As for those who practiced in the spring, linebackers Jeremy Grove and Kyle Tudor impressed, along with defensive end Lee Pegues and lineman Derrell Johnson, who moved inside. If there is an area of particular depth it is the secondary, with seniors Bradley Jacobs, Emanuel Davis and Derek Blacknall returning, along with the emerging Damon Magazu. Blacknall has moved from free safety to cornerback and is projected to start there.

“Derek’s a really good athlete, and went into the spring defensively trying to get our best personnel on the field,” McNeill said. “Moving Derek to corner helped with our athleticism and it also gave Damon Magazu a chance to get on the field, too.”

The switch has got to yield better results than last season, when the Pirates were forced to outscore teams to win. With a high-powered offense behind Dominique Davis, that worked some of the time. But the Pirates ended the season with losses in five of their last six games. They gave up 40-plus points 10 times in 13 games and gave up an average of 44 points a game, ranking No. 119 in the nation.

The rest of the defensive numbers are just as ugly, as the Pirates were the worst in the nation in total defense, and among the worst in rush, pass, pass efficiency and first-down defense. McNeill does not have to remind his players about their struggles last year. They should be all-too familiar with feeling helpless to stop their opponent.

“In this game, you hope there’s a pride factor and I’m sure here there is,” McNeill said. “They played good defense here for years before we got here. Last year was not one we would count as having a good year. You would hope those guys have some pride to want to get better.”

Lunchtime Links

April, 18, 2011
4/18/11
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Monday, Monday ...

Boise State's spring has wrapped, and the Idaho Statesman presents 13 players who stood out.

East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill has dropped 90 pounds.

Video: Five things you don't know about Colin Kaepernick.

Tulsa needs to find leaders in the offseason.

Derek Thompson is the North Texas starter at quarterback going into fall camp.

Here is a good look at where Hawaii stands after spring ball.

Some questions to ponder at Marshall.

Larry Dawson made people notice at the Kent State spring game.

Steve Fairchild faces a tough task at Colorado State, but it's not his first.

Northern Illinois backup quarterback Jordan Lynch is making strides.
East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill is recovering following weight loss surgery last week, a precursor to hip surgery planned for later this spring.

McNeill issued a statement through East Carolina because of recent inquiries about his health. Here it is:
"I am appreciative and deeply touched by the caring support so many have extended to me as I work through another one of life's journeys. My first priority is to regain an active lifestyle that will not only benefit myself physically, but put me in a position to provide uninterrupted leadership to our football program and service to East Carolina University.

"It is a blessing to be under the best of care by two of the finest doctors in the country, who have implemented a team approach to allow me to reach these goals. The first step was to address the strain I was putting on my body and I am pleased to announce I am successfully in the recovery phase of bariatric surgery last Thursday (Jan. 13). It is our plan that this procedure will precede hip replacement surgery later in the spring that will allow the pain-free mobility I have longed for over the last few years.

While I understand the process has only started, my commitment to get back in the weight room and resume a daily workout routine runs deep. My wife Erlene, my daughters, our football team and the Pirate Nation has and continues to serve as an inspiration for me."

Lunchtime Links

December, 28, 2010
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Two bowl games tonight, but zero involving non-AQ teams. Not to fret, several more non-AQ bowls are on tap for this week.

Now on to some links:

Air Force put its training to use in its 14-7 win over Georgia Tech in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl.

The Falcons seniors starred for the last time.

TCU stopped and smelled the roses Monday.

East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill is not concerned about his team's long layoff heading into the Military Bowl against Maryland on Wednesday.

FIU could be an overwhelming favorite to repeat as Sun Belt champs.

Will SMU or Army have more fans at the Armed Forces Bowl, being played at SMU's home stadium?

Jared Hassin leads the Army ground game.

UCF has arrived in Memphis for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Friday.

BYU's future is unclear due to the uncertainty of the offensive coaching staff.
East Carolina has made five straight bowl appearances but has only one win to show for its previous four. The Pirates face a big challenge against Maryland on Wednesday in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman, especially considering they ended the season with losses in four of their last five games because their defense fell apart. Still, making a bowl game is a good accomplishment for first-year coach Ruffin McNeill, who inherited a team that returned just eight starters.

WHO TO WATCH: East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis. He came in as a junior college transfer after playing his first season at Boston College and is one of the biggest reasons East Carolina is in a bowl game. His Hail Mary touchdown pass with no time left in the season-opener against Tulsa essentially put the Pirates in this game. He already has established new school single-season records for attempts (552), completions (358), passing yardage (3,699) and touchdown passes, 36) and ranks No. 1 in the country in completions per game and points responsible for per game; fourth in passing yards per game and total passing yards (3,699); and sixth in total offense per game. Davis has thrived in the spread option, even though he had to sit out spring practice.

WHAT TO WATCH: East Carolina's defense. OK, there has not been much to watch this season with a defense that has been a sieve, ranking last in the nation in total D. East Carolina has had to outscore people to win all season long, but with extra time to prepare, perhaps the Pirates will be up to the task. This is the same Pirates team that beat NC State this season and held the Wolfpack to 27 points. One of the biggest matchups to watch is Maryland receiver Torrey Smith against Pirates cornerbacks Emanuel Davis and Travis Simmons.

WHY TO WATCH: The chances for an offensive back-and-forth are great, and who doesn’t like a little bit of an offensive showdown every once in a while? The Pirates have had some heart-stopping wins this year – the Hail Mary victory against Tulsa and the overtime win against NC State, and a one-point win against Southern Miss. You can’t accuse the Pirates of being boring to watch.

PREDICTION: Maryland 45, East Carolina 40. The Pirates have given up 54.8 points per game in their past five and are going to have a tough time slowing the Terrapins down. Expect an inspired Maryland team to be playing for coach Ralph Friedgen, in his final game at Maryland.
East Carolina Pirates (6-6) vs. Maryland Terrapins (8-4)

Dec. 29, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

East Carolina take by nation blogger Andrea Adelson: The Pirates were tabbed to have a rebuilding year under first-year coach Ruffin McNeill, especially with only two starters returning on defense. After opening the season strong at 5-2, the Pirates fell apart, losing four of their last five because their defense just didn't hold up. In those five games, East Carolina gave up 54.8 points per game. They rank last in the nation in total defense and No. 118 in scoring defense, and gave up an embarrassing 76 points in a loss to Navy.

But anytime you play East Carolina, you are most likely going to get into a shootout because their offense has been prolific behind quarterback Dominique Davis. The Boston College transfer threw for 3,699 yards and 36 touchdowns this season, leading the league in passing. His top receiver is Dwayne Harris, who had 1,055 yards and 10 touchdown receptions this season and led the league in receptions per game with 7.8. East Carolina won back-to-back Conference USA championships before this season, so the Pirates are no strangers to winning big games. But they have dropped four of their last five bowl games and are going to need to keep up on offense to have any shot in this game.


Maryland take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen was expecting a higher-tier bowl for his eight-win Terps, but considering the program won just two games a year ago, those within it are also happy to be back in the postseason.

Friedgen was named the ACC’s Coach of the Year for the turnaround, which was the second-best in the FBS this year, and quarterback Danny O’Brien was named the league’s Rookie of the Year. Together they put Maryland in position to win the Atlantic Division title, but a loss to Florida State knocked the Terps out of the title game race.

Maryland responded by playing the role of spoiler win a win over NC State in its season finale, a game in which O’Brien and receiver Torrey Smith had career days. Much of Maryland’s success this year can be attributed to its turnover margin, which is tied for seventh in the country. Defensively, Maryland has made significant improvement in defensive coordinator Don Brown’s second season. The Terps’ secondary will be tested by ECU quarterback Dominique Davis, whose 3,699 passing yards ranks fourth in the nation. Maryland ranks No. 9 in the country in pass efficiency defense. Maryland has won four of its past five bowl games and has outscored its last four bowl opponents 151-73.

East Carolina becomes bowl eligible

November, 12, 2010
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East Carolina became bowl eligible in a game that has become typical of the Pirates this season -- a good ol' shootout.

Dominique Davis threw for 331 yards and five touchdowns, and East Carolina rallied for the 54-42 win over UAB on Thursday night in front of a very sparse crowd in Birmingham.

The Pirates (6-4) are bowl eligible for the fifth straight season, and you have to give them much credit for making it this far. Facing a huge rebuilding project and playing for a new coach in Ruffin McNeill, the Pirates may not have looked pretty this season, but they have made it into a bowl.

Against UAB, East Carolina was able to overcome the embarrassment of giving up 76 points the week before to Navy and snap a two-game losing streak. As usual, Davis starred for the Pirates. The game turned in the fourth quarter, when the Pirates outscored the Blazers 27-7. Davis gave East Carolina a 48-42 lead with 5:48 to go after throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Williams, and running in the two-point conversion.

This was a big win, a character win,”McNeill said afterward. “We had two tough losses, really four. It's been a very physical year, and defensively we lost three guys to season-ending injuries. With our kids, the next guy picks up the flag.”

Davis, meanwhile, is turning in a season worthy of Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year honors.

Davis now has 31 touchdown passes and 3,077 yards this season, setting the East Carolina single-season record for both. Jeff Blake held both previous marks -- 28 touchdown passes and 3,073 yards in 1991. Davis and Blake are the only two quarterbacks in school history to throw for more than 3,000 yards.

Overall this year, East Carolina has scored 382 points, 21 shy of the school-record 403 set by the 2007 team.

The Pirates are 5-1 in league play and has an outside shot at the East Division. They need to win out and have UCF (7-2, 5-0) lose two of its final three to win the division. UCF hosts Southern Miss on Saturday. Conference USA now has five teams that are bowl eligible.

East Carolina improving on defense

October, 29, 2010
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This was not supposed to be their year. Not with a new head coach, not with new schemes, not with all those starters gone.

Yet here we are in the last week of October, and the same old team is in contention for the Conference USA title.

[+] EnlargeDustin Lineback
Geoff Burke/Getty ImagesSenior linebacker Dustin Lineback says the Pirates' defense is playing with a lot of confidence now.
Two-time defending champion East Carolina (5-2, 4-0) has shunned any thoughts of this being a rebuilding year, working its way to the top of the East Division. The Pirates have already beaten one division foe in Southern Miss. Now they need to get past UCF on Saturday to take control.

Much easier said than done, of course. UCF (5-2, 4-0) has the best defense in Conference USA and is playing at home, with the expectation that this is their year to win the league.

Both teams have won nine straight league games. Both are undefeated in league play. Both are trying to become bowl eligible.

“It’s a big division rivalry,” said East Carolina linebacker Dustin Lineback. “They’re looking to get us and we’re looking to get them, too. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

East Carolina has owned the series with UCF, leading 8-1. The only time UCF beat East Carolina was on the road, 30-20 in 2005.

Coach Ruffin McNeill took over when Skip Holtz left at the end of last season and brought his high-octane spread offense. He only had six returning starters to his entire team. What helped was the addition of Boston College transfer Dominique Davis, who has been an immediate success. His Hail Mary touchdown pass to beat Tulsa to open the season set the tone for the offense.

Davis and his teammates have converted 27 of 28 opportunities in the red zone, and the Pirates are the top-ranked offense in Conference USA. Dwayne Harris has been a huge key, ranking sixth in the nation in receptions per game (7.7). He has at least one reception in 38 straight games, the second-longest streak in the country.

This spread offense is on pace to set several school records, including scoring average, passing yards per game, touchdown passes per game and first downs per game.

It is the defense that has been the biggest question mark. East Carolina only had two returning starters, and it showed early. The Pirates gave up 40-plus points in four of their first five games of the season, relying on the offense to outscore opponents.

But in the last two games, the defense has tightened. The Pirates held NC State to 27 points in an overtime victory, then held Marshall to just 10 in another win -- the fewest points they had given up since 2008.

There is more: East Carolina has forced eight turnovers in the last two games after getting only one takeaway in the previous three. That includes six interceptions in those games, after going without one in three straight.

Last week against Marshall, East Carolina had six quarterback hurries, bringing its two-game total to 17 -- an average of 8.5 pressures per contest.

“It’s been a step-by-step process,” McNeill said of his defensive unit. “We’re playing 16 to 18 guys who have never played significant reps before, but they’ve improved on their fundamentals, execution of the calls, and the exactness in their technique. I’ve seen the trust that develops in a defense that has been through trials and tribulations, and the belief in one another that if we stay the course, we’ll be OK.”

What has also helped has been the senior leadership of Lineback and fellow linebacker Melvin Patterson, along with tackle Josh Smith. Lineback and Patterson lead the team in tackles. But it is Patterson who has emerged -- Lineback calls him the Energizer Bunny.

Now the strong effort of the last two games has to be sustained.

“It took a few games to make sure things were going smoothly, but now we’re playing with confidence,” Lineback said. “That’s how you win games on defense, when you’ve got 11 guys on the same page.”

Midseason Report: East Carolina

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
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East Carolina Pirates

Record: 3-2 (3-0 Conference USA)

It appeared the Pirates were in for a rebuilding year when the season began. With just six starters returning off their league-championship team and a new head coach, it would stand to reason there would be a transition period. East Carolina lost 34 lettermen from 2009, the highest number of all FBS schools. But Ruffin McNeill has found a quarterback to run his high-octane offense. Boston College transfer Dominique Davis emerged as the starter following a heated fall competition and perhaps set the tone for the rest of the season with his Hail Mary touchdown pass to Justin Jones as time expired to give his team a 51-49 win over Tulsa in the opener. The Pirates also came from behind to beat Southern Miss and are in the conversation for the league title. The defense has been shaky at best, and depth on the defensive line is a question.

Offensive MVP, QB Dominique Davis – Davis had thrown for 14 touchdown passes and rushed for three more. He leads Conference USA in passing, averaging 288 yards a game. No question Davis has been put in the position to keep up with the opposition, but he has proven to be more than capable of leading this offense.

Defensive MVP, LB Dustin Lineback – No question the defense has struggled this season, giving up an average of 42 points a game. But Lineback has been the consistent leading tackler. He just posted back-to-back double-digit tackle games against Memphis and Southern Miss. He leads the team with 41 tackles, a career-high already.
East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis knew what would await him if he showed his face on campus that Tuesday morning.

Sure, the Hail Mary to beat Tulsa was the best experience of his life. But Davis needed to focus on the next game, to put it behind him, not let it turn into a distraction.

So he took shortcuts to his classes after the thrilling 51-49 win to open the season, hoping to avoid the craziness he was sure would follow. He succeeded there, in the same way he has succeeded on the field in the Pirates’ 2-0 start.

[+] EnlargeDavis
AP Photo/Rhett ButlerDominique Davis has thrown eight touchdown passes and just one interception so far this season.
Davis, it seems, is pretty elusive.

Perhaps we should have all expected that from the one-time starter at Boston College. But time and anonymity has a way of making us all forget. Davis is quickly making us all remember.

He has been the story of the young season in Greenville, N.C., so far. Many thought this season would be a rebuilding one, following the loss of coach Skip Holtz and 14 starters, including veteran quarterback Patrick Pinkney.

How quickly a Hail Mary can change perceptions.

“We just do what we have to do to prove people wrong and just win games,” Davis said.

A big one looms Saturday against what should be a supremely motivated Virginia Tech team eager for a win after an embarrassing loss to James Madison last weekend. For his part, Davis said the team has not thought about that intangible factor playing a role in the game.

“We’re not worried at all,” Davis said. “We’re going to go into Blacksburg and do what we have to do. We’re focused on us right now.”

The Virginia Tech game begins a key three-game stretch for the Pirates. Following an off week, they travel to play at North Carolina and then at Conference USA rival Southern Miss. While the Pirates are going to need to show some defensive improvement, Davis has been the unquestioned star.

But he has only been with the team for a few short months. Davis began his college career in Boston, and became the starter after an injury knocked starter Chris Crane out for the season. He helped the Eagles get into the ACC championship game against Virginia Tech.

Though Boston College lost that game and its bowl game, Davis thought he was on his way to becoming the full-time starter. But soon there was a coaching change. Then Davis got into academic trouble and was suspended in the summer of 2009. He transferred to Fort Scott Community College in Kansas for a season, then committed to Holtz because he saw an opportunity to start right away.

But soon there was a coaching change -- Holtz left for USF. Davis got nervous.

After Ruffin McNeill was hired, his first order of business was to re-recruit Davis. He and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley arrived at the Davis home in Lakeland, Fla., to make their pitch. McNeill laid it all out there.

“I told him about the demands I have on our players,” he recalled. “I want them to act professional and act championship-like, and Dominique was ready to do that and more.”

“I was being patient,” Davis said. “When they brought in Ruffin McNeill, he came the day after he was hired to talk to me and my family. That made me more comfortable. He was just like 'we’re going to run this business as a family.' That opened our eyes. My family wanted me to be with him.”

Davis reaffirmed his commitment, but missed the start of the academic semester, preventing him from participating in spring drills. Davis paid his own way to Greenville and was there to watch all 15 spring practices so he could begin to learn the spread offense McNeill and his staff were installing.

McNeill maintained an open competition for the quarterback job throughout the fall between Davis, Brad Wornick and Rio Johnson. Everyone found out his choice when East Carolina kicked off the season against Tulsa.

It seems like an easy one after watching what happened next. In what turned out to be an offensive shootout, Davis matched Tulsa veteran quarterback G.J. Kinne throw for throw, going 27-of-46 for 383 yards with five touchdowns and an interception. He also added a touchdown on the ground.

But the most important play, of course, was the 33-yard prayer to Justin Jones with no time left to win the game.

“He was very poised, with a new offense, new coaching staff, new football team, he made some tough throws there,” McNeill said. “To make the play on the last toss, to make that play was very special by Dominique.”

Davis kept it up last week against Memphis, going 27-of-38 for 244 yards with three touchdowns in a 49-27 win. He added two more on the ground.

Now the big test comes. Davis has proved he is ready.

Non-AQ Did You Know: Week 2

September, 10, 2010
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Now for a bit of Did You Know? going into Week 2:
  • When Memphis visits East Carolina on Saturday, it will mark the first time since 2003 that two first-year coaches are facing each other in Conference USA play. Larry Porter dropped his opener last week when Memphis lost to Mississippi State, while Ruffin McNeill saw his cardiac Pirates pull off a 51-49 win over Tulsa on a Hail Mary.
  • TCU coach Gary Patterson had the quote of the week when discussing his team’s upcoming game against Tennessee Tech: “We don’t want to be the Ole Miss of this week,” he said. Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State, which upset the Rebels last week, play in the same conference. Incidentally, Patterson got his first paying job as a coach at Tennessee Tech in 1983.
  • The Western Michigan football team stepped up in a big way to help a student-run organization that provides free rides home for members of the community Thursday-Saturday late nights. Drive Safe Kalamazoo realized it had no funding for this weekend because of a clerical error. Each member of the football team decided to donate $1 from per diem they received during a day of training camp to help close the gap. The organization ended up getting enough money to be funded for this weekend, and the football team’s donation paid for one car in the seven-car fleet.
  • When Arkansas State plays Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, it begins a three-game stretch against conference opponents. The last time Arkansas State opened its season against conference opponents in three of its first four games was in 1995 as a member of the Big West.
  • Army plays Hawaii Saturday and several of its coaches have ties to the Warriors. Head coach Rich Ellerson lettered four years at Hawaii as a center and linebacker and graduated in 1977. He served as a graduate assistant there in 1977 and later as a defensive assistant from 1981-83 and defensive coordinator from 1987-91. Co-defensive coordinator Chris Smeland coached at Hawaii from 1991-94.
  • Things don’t get much easier for San Jose State this week. After losing to No. 1 Alabama, the Spartans play at No. 11 Wisconsin on Saturday. This is the second straight year the team is opening the season against two ranked opponents. San Jose State hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since defeating No. 9 TCU 27-24 in 2000.
  • Utah State quarterback Diondre Borel needs 69 passing yards against Idaho State to reach 5,000 for his career.
  • Four FBS quarterbacks threw five touchdown passes in Week 1 -- three are from Conference USA: Houston's Case Keenum had five in the first half against Texas State before sitting out the second half; East Carolina’s Dominique Davis threw five in his first start for the Pirates against Tulsa; in the same game, Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne also had five.
  • Utah has a chance to set the Mountain West record for consecutive home wins. The Utes have won 18 straight, tied with BYU, which set the mark from Sept. 9, 2006, to Nov. 8, 2008. Utah hosts UNLV this weekend. The current home winning streak began Sept. 15, 2007 with a 44-6 victory over UCLA. The 18-game streak is the third-longest active home winning streak in the country behind Oklahoma (31) and Boise State (26).

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