A Decade of Pirate Football:
A Wild Rollercoaster Season Ends
QB Kyler Wilson (So) 13 games, 314 of 489 for 3,820 yards. 32 TDs 9 Ints. 147.75 QBR, 294 YPG.
A decade of Pirate football came to an end this season in heartbreaking fashion. Their season came to an end in a shootout with a Minnesota Team that had underperformed this season. Offically ending the season 6-7(4-4), the Pirates went from Conference Champion hopefuls, to struggling to make a bowl game. The Rushing defense struggled early and often this season. Many times the Pirate defense allowed as much on the ground(sometimes even more) than they allowed through the air. Still, the Pirates continued to fight and managed a narrow win over UConn to ensure a Bowl game.
WR Jacob Benson Sr 13 Games, 93 Receptions for 1313 yards. 14 Touchdowns, 4 drops. 14.12 YPC, 101 YPG
The ECU offense to major step forwards in every area. Their Air Raid style offense, lead by redshirt So QB Kyler Wilson, saw the Pirates create several new school single season records. Throwing for over 3800 yards, Wilson also manage to break the single season touchdown record after coming up 1 short of tying it during his Freshman season. His 32 Touchdown passes is an improvement on his 28 last season. But it wasn't just more yard thrown, or more touchdown catches. Wilson improved his completion percentage. By almost TEN percent. He threw for 56% last season. This season he completed 64% of his passes. Throwing for almost 300 yards a game, Wilson made all of these improvements by technically throwing less. Even if it wasn't that much less.
The Pirates however didn't just make great gains in their passing attack, Freshman Samuel Baldwin and So Miles Giordano helped establish a run game that was basically wasn't even in the game plan last season. The duo rushed for a combined 777 yards on the ground. While it doesn't sound like much(especially since the Pirates use to have some amazing rushing attacks), it was a signficant improvement over the previous season inwhich they had to throw every play. Given the passing attempts over the past two years were close, to see such an uptick in the production had to make the coaches feel better. The very dark spot on the season however are the games against SMU and WMU in which, both games combined, they only managed 13 yards. Games like that can't happen. No matter how good the opponents defense is, or how quickly you go down, 13 yards in two games is just not acceptable. The Pirates continue to beef up their O-Line and should see some improvement again in 2024. But given some of the problems this team has had in the run game over the last few seasons, Baldwin the 3rd has given that runningback room something to be excited about.
We can not talk about this ECU offense and not mention the studs they had at the receiver position.Seniors Leon Burris and Jacob Benson ended the season with 11 and 14 touchdowns respectively. Benson had a monster season and ended with over 1300 yards receiving. His 101 YPG is a school record, as well as his 93 receptions. He was as reliable a receiver as you could have asked for. He won a Conference award for his effort as well and has already been reconized as one of the biggest WR names going into the draft. He potentionally could be a first round pick, the first in the schools history. While Burris didn't have the senior season he was hoping for, the senior is going out as one of the best stars in the schools history. Gavin Faulk's magical season last year over shadowed his own top performance, and had to watch his teammate this season do it again. However he shouldn't feel bad as he received a standing ovation following the game against UConn. The senior was given special honors that night in his final game at home for his efforts over the last four seasons.
He is the only active player on the team who has started the last four seasons. He was Coach Weeze's first recruit(3 Star), and has broken or set just about every major receiving record for the school. Leon Burris has outplayed his value and truly was one of the AAC most underrated players.
Leon Burris Career Stats: 2020-2023
50 Statsheets (2nd all time. QB Liam Carver 53), 248 Catches(1st) 3371 Yards(1st), 35 Touchdowns(1st), 67.4 YPG(1st with 14 or more games)
He made a speech following the game with UConn and thanked Pirate nation for all their love and support over his four seasons with the team. Given his success, it is believed he will be the next memeber to be inducted in the Ring of Honor.
OLB Richard Jack (So) 8 Statsheets, 50 Tackles, 10 TFL, 4 Sacks, 1 FF
The Defense this season continued their struggles. Some of it was expected. They started two freshman on the interior line. Two freshman at linebacker. A freshman and a Sophomore with no experince at Corner, as well as another Sophomore without game experince at safety. That is a large part of the defense to have struggle with inexperince. The headcoach and the DC were both aware of this problem from the start and at multiple times this season tried to slow the game down. It hurt them more than it helped a few times. Tulsa for example took advantage of their conservative play and made them abandon their gameplan.
For all their collective frustrations, individual perfromances give hope for what could be. Richard Jack(OLB) and Mario Redd(ILB) combined for 105 tackles, 12 TFL and 4 sacks. Oliver Hood(OLB) adds another 20 tackles for the Linebacker corp, hands down the most productive unit. Both of the Defensive ends seem to regress this season. Theo Guinn after a fantastic freshman season, stalled this year and didn't improve much. However, he did find a way to push himself into second all time in sacks. Aiden Daniels, who was pushed to the strong side of the defense, just could not find his grove and ended the season with 4 sacks. His 8 tackles this season also doesn't help his potential status next season as 4* James stone will be able to start fresh off his redshirt season. Some of the production issues also could be a direct result of having two freshman tackles start as opposed to the seniors they had last year.
Last but not forgotten, Special teams. OVerall, the returned game sucked. Punt returns basically didn't happen for the Pirates. KR was better, but dropped off dramatically from last season as well. Perhaps that is a good thing and resulted from the team winning more games, but still you would have liked to see more from the unit. Brian McLane on the other hand, the 5 star Kicker could verywell be the next coming for Kicker U. McLane in his freshman season got very close to breaking the points record for kickers. His 87 points came off of 36 XP and 17 made fieldgoals. His made only 81% of his FG this season, however as a freshman, we should see that number increase and hopefully a better team will also see him in more managable ranges. It should be noted that he also tied the longest kick in school history at 50. There are questions at multiple positions this coming season, but coaches and fans alike are thrilled to have McLane, and hope he can continue his progression.
It was a long season, full of great things, but too many disappointing outcomes occured for this coaching staff to be happy. They can and will have to do better as they move forward into 2024, and the start of a new decade of Pirate football.