Let’s All Remember Ruffin McNeill and “Peak ECU”, Huh?

So East Carolina under new head coach Mike Houston has finally come to their senses and decided it is time to atone for Ruffin McNeill’s unceremonious departure after the 2015 season.

I and several others covered the hell out of this situation back when we were still at Underdog Dynasty under the SB Nation banner, but in going back a certain passage stuck out to me:

“… prior to Ruffin McNeill’s arrival in 2010, they had won more than nine games exactly once in their entire program’s history – in 1991 under Bill Lewis (more well known for not winning at Wyoming or Georgia Tech, either). When Ruffin led this program to a 10-3 record in the 2013 season it was an epic achievement.”

People forget this. Going into that 2015 season, ECU had just finished their first season in a new conference, and a team that got to ten wins via the third-best passing offense in the country graduated the best quarterback in program history and the best wide receiver in program history.

They then lost their starting QB to a torn ACL a week before the season started, leaving the following options:

  • a JUCO transfer who ran the scout team in 2014
  • a true freshman
  • a JUCO dual-threat QB who was recruited as a WR, then moved back to QB after the injury because the freshman wasn’t ready.

That they lost three times by a touchdown or less and still won five with that much turnover at the most important position period, let alone for a pass-heavy offense, was yet another miracle.

See? I’m not still bitter four years later.

AnywaysI figure if ECU is going to honor Ruffin McNeill, then goddamnit so are we. And what better way to do so than to honor the 2014 season, which I consider to be the time that Ruff had “Peak ECU” going through the sidelines in Greenville.

Don’t remember that year? Please allow me…

Weeks 1 & 2 – Defeat NCCU 52-7, Lose to South Carolina 33-23

Standard fare to open the season. Beat the snot out of a poor local FCS school and then hit the road against a ranked SEC team with predictable results. It was not actually that close, but the defense got a couple of red-zone stops.

Week 3 – Pull off an upset on the road against #17 Virginia Tech, 28-21

This was a truly bonkers game. Were it not for Shane Carden’s second-quarter fumble, the Pirates would have been 10 yards away from a 28-0 lead with 7 1/2 minutes left before halftime.

Then the universe began to normalize, and Virginia Tech started to figure things out. Even after all of that, there still remained the climactic ending that saw ECU win 28-21 in a game where they led 21-14 with a minute and a half left to play.

Highlights? Sure, here you go.

Week 4 – UNC Gets Laid Out by a 70-41 Final

And it wasn’t even that close. Think of it this way; when UNC scored almost three minutes into the second quarter, they took a 20-14 lead. By the time they scored again, almost the same amount of time into the third quarter, they trailed 42-27.

Here, I’ll let the video speak for itself because Sesame Street feels very appropriate.

Weeks 5-7 – The offensive train keeps chugging through SMU, USF, and UConn

This run of games, powered as usual by the offense, ran the Pirates to a 6-1 record and as high as #18 in the rankings. I apologize to any USF fans out there who really badly wanted to watch this loss again, so highlights of SMU and UConn losing will have to console you.

This was 2014 when June Jones quit as SMU’s coach two weeks in, the Mustangs got outscored 202-12 in their first four games, and they had Deion Sanders, Jr. at wide receiver. Good times.

Ah yes. Somehow those awkward, Husky-faced, mohawk-stripey helmet monstrosities were used for a second season. An ugly win over an ugly team with ugly helmets is still a win.

Week 8 – Temple and the elements bring things grinding to a halt

Between a stifling defense, an opportunistic offense, and an absolute bog of a field, Temple was able to grind this offense to dust. ECU fumbled eight times and lost five of them; it’s a minor miracle they only lost 20-10.

You’re sure you want to watch the highlights? Alrighty. Glorified mud wrestling it is.

Week 9  – Things start to get weird on the road in Cincinnati

So now the Pirates hit the road to play one of those pseudo-neutral site games. Is it at an NFL stadium and therefore not a home game? Yes, of course. However that NFL stadium happens to be about four miles from Cincinnati’s campus and about 600 miles from ECU.

ECU had more first downs, more rushing yards, fewer turnovers, and fewer penalties and still lost.

Let’s all remind you of this moment. On fourth down and two from their own 32, the Bearcats decided that the right decision was to run a read-option sweep with Gunner Kiel at quarterback.

Kiel was many things in his time at Indiana, LSU, Notre Dame, and Cincinnati. An option quarterback was not one of them. For that reason, the screenshot I’m about to show you should come as little surprise.

So far, so good.

Doesn’t look promising…

Ruh roh.

ECU would recover that fumble and drive in for a touchdown that gave them a 46-46 lead with 1:02 remaining…

…and then let Kiel back on the field to drive the Bearcats from their own 35 to the ECU 30 in three plays. They gained no yards on three more plays, but it didn’t matter after Andrew Gantz hit a field goal to seal the deal.

Weeks 10 & 11 A return to some amount of normalcy against Tulane and Tulsa

A couple of wins against teams they absolutely should beat would help get things going back in the Pirates direction.

A good result despite a couple of red-zone stalls for the offense.

Ho hum, just another 338 yards and four touchdowns for Carden. Not enough to get back into the rankings, but 8-3 is still pretty nice, and now the Pirates get a chance to end the season at home with a shot at crushing UCF’s dreams of sharing the inaugural AAC title.

Week 12 – Funny thing about dreams…

Sometimes they turn into nightmares when you least expect it.

ECU let the Knights inside their 25-yard line six times in the first three quarters but only surrendered two touchdowns, otherwise, it would have been much worse than the 26-9 deficit they were facing heading into the fourth quarter.

Things finally started clicking and Carden strung together three straight scoring drives, going 16-for-17 for 184 yards and three touchdowns. Suddenly UCF had the ball, down four points, and with only a hope and a prayer of anything happening. And then it happened.

With 16 seconds left, Shane Carden takes a sack instead of throwing the ball away, giving UCF only 65 yards (instead of 76) to reach the end zone.

Two plays later…

Denouement – Birmingham Bowl fizzle against Florida

After that nonsense, they still got the chance to end the season with a bounce-back game against an SEC opponent.

The Pirates played well, but on another rainy day, the red-zone offense failed with flying colors. In the last eight minutes of the game, Carden was 0-for-7 with an interception in the red zone.

The Pirates entered the final ten minutes trailing 28-14. Another 18 yards of offense and they leave with a 35-28 victory, but instead another soggy defeat to round out the season.

It definitely did not end the way the players, coaches or fans would have wanted, but this 2014 ECU team was absolutely fun to watch and very likely induced their fair share of heart attacks over the course of the season.

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