There are a series of challenges for the East Carolina defense on Saturday when it comes to Ann Arbor to face the Michigan football offense.
It’s not just the scheme, or the talent. There’s uncertainty about what the Pirates will see. Wolverine head coach Jim Harbaugh is suspended for the first game, as is offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore. That means that Jesse Minter, the team’s defensive coordinator, will act as interim head coach, while quarterbacks coach Kirk Campbell will be stepping into the interim offensive coordinator role.
For ECU defensive coordinator Blake Harrell, while he’s looking back at Campbell’s previous experience, he doesn’t expect to see much different in terms of style of play from the maize and blue on Saturday.
“Yeah, not much,” Harrell said. “I think, obviously, the new playcaller was at ODU. So you get back in touch a little bit with his background. And I think actually going back (into the past further), he was the offensive coordinator at Alderson Broaddus, we played them back in, I think, 2013.
“So, the history there, it goes back a ways, but I don’t think it changes who the players are, who their identity is, or what they really want to do with football. I think they’re gonna be who they are, and who they have been over the last couple of seasons. Which is pound the football. Obviously, they keep talking about they want to be more balanced. So they’ve been 60-40, run-to-pass. Obviously, J.J. McCarthy is a really good quarterback and they want to be more balanced 50-50. But at the same time, they’ve been very successful doing what they do.
“So we prepare for both, a little bit more passing game, but at the same time, prepare for what we see on film, what we’re gonna get into.”
While Harrell is certain he’ll see a more aggressive pass game from the maize and blue, he’s well aware that that isn’t considered the Wolverines’ strength at the moment. That honor belongs to the run game, featuring Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, bolstered by the two-time Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line.
Harrell notes that they can’t just come up with one idea and sit back and see if that works. He says they’ll be changing things up early and often, in hopes to get the run game out of rhythm.
“They obviously do a really good job running the football and got two good tailbacks to do that, a good O-line to do that,” Harrell said. “So we got to have various ways to take care of the run game. And I think where they get a lot of running yards, if you go back and watch the tape, is in the second half, they just kind of wear on people and wear them down in the fourth quarter. You’ll see a 10-10 ballgame, all of a sudden look up and it’s 31-10. And (they just take advantage). Somebody misses a gap and they have the ability to break it out and take it to the house.
“So you’ve gotta have various weapons to take in. I don’t think you can sit there and play them one way all game — or at least that’s not our philosophy right now. We’ve got multiple ways — one is pressure or base defense to throw at them, because they’re very good. I think if you just throw one thing out, one pitch at them all day, they’re probably gonna hit that one out of the park. So you better have multiple pitches and they’ve got to be good ones, too.”
Michigan and East Carolina will kick off at noon EDT from The Big House on Saturday. The game will be nationally streamed on Peacock.