GREENVILLE, N.C. -- East Carolina finished with its third-highest yardage total (455) and its fourth-highest point total of the season in a 37-10 win over Marshall here at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday, but tweaks to the Herd's defensive scheme seemed to fluster the Pirates' offense in the first half.
ECU's up-tempo, productive offense was held to 10 points until a pair of interceptions late in the second quarter presented the Pirates with a short field and choice scoring opportunities. ECU scored 20 first-half points, but 13 came off Marshall turnovers and on drives of 28, 54 and 30 yards.
The Pirates' other scoring drive came after a Marshall three-and-out on a drive that started on the Herd's own 7, so ECU obtained the ball at its opponents 37-yard line and scored a touchdown eight plays later.
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday credited defensive coordinator Chris Rippon and the other defensive assistants for formulating a game plan that appeared to have limited the nation's eighth-best passing offense until the offense's turnovers derailed the defense's momentum.
Marshall (1-6, 0-3) started three down linemen (Vinny Curry, Marques Aiken and Delvin Johnson) and used a new combination of players behind them: linebackers Tyson Gale and Mario Harvey, and defensive backs Zach Dunston, Ahmed Shakoor, Monterius Lovett, Rashad Jackson, Omar Brown and Donald Brown.
"We showed them pressure, we would drop nine, then we would show them pressure and bring them all and play zero coverage, which creates some issues," Holliday said.
"It was a little hairy out there at times, but in the first half I thought we got by with some things and slowed them down a little bit."
Aiken, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound redshirt freshman from Lauderhill, Fla., was a first-time starter at defensive end. He had three tackles and teamed with Curry on a sack.
Dunston, a 6-1, 188-pounder from Virginia Beach, Va., also received his first start at outside linebacker, but played mostly in pass coverage. Dunston, a true freshman, has played exclusively on special teams this season, but his defensive future is at safety.
At times on Saturday, Aiken and Dunston were joined on the field by Lovett and true freshman cornerback Darryl Roberts and true freshman linebacker Trevor Black, meaning Marshall has played five freshmen on defense.
East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis, who ranked in the top 10 nationally in passing yardage entering the game, was held to a season-low 208 yards. He did, however, toss two touchdown passes and ran for a third - a 26-yarder on ECU's first possession of the second half that made it a three-possession game, 27-10.
"Coming into this game we knew they would have trouble because our scheme was different, something we didn't do all year," Marshall free safety Omar Brown said. "We knew they would have trouble with it and it showed in the first half.