ECU Film Study: Terry Williams is the key to ECU’s defense


The North Carolina Tar Heels will take on the East Carolina Pirates Saturday afternoon in Greenville, North Carolina. The Pirates have had an awfully good start to their season so far. In game one of the 2014 season, the Pirates crushed N.C. Central to the tune of a 52-7 blowout. That ended the cupcake portion of the schedule for East Carolina. Next on the docket was three big time football teams, all with Top-25 pedigrees and all members of power five conferences. South Carolina played host to ECU on Saturday, September 6th. The Pirates fought hard but ended up losing a close game by the score of 33-23.

Last weekend, the Pirates had another chance to take down a Top-25 power when they traveled up to Blacksburg, Virginia to take on the Virginia Tech Hokies. Playing in a hostile environment in Lane Stadium, the Pirates jumped out to an early 21-0 lead and ended up beating the Hokies by the score of 28-21. That brings us up to speed with how the Pirates’s season has gone so far and why they are much better than their 2-1 record suggests.

In order to compete in big games against teams from the ACC and the SEC, teams like East Carolina must be strong on both sides of the ball. Shane Carden and ECU’s vaunted passing attack racked up 427 yards against the Hokies, who are known around the country as one of the better defensive teams year after year. Just as impressive was the defense which held Virginia Tech to 2.8 yards per rush. Yep, you read that right- 2.8 yards per attempt, or 91 yards on 33 rushes.

A big part of that tough 3-4 defense that ECU runs so successfully against the run is nose tackle Terry Williams. He is listed as 6-1, 353 pounds but I’m sure his playing weight is just a bit north of that. Here is Williams eating up Hokies from last year’s game.

Against Virginia Tech this year, playing in his first game of the season, Williams recorded one solo tackle, four assisted tackles, half a tackle for loss, half a sack and a QB hurry. Even those impressive numbers don’t tell the whole story about Williams’s dominant performance. I will let Twitter fill in the gaps…

Even UNC’s Brandon Ellerbe took notice:

Let’s take a look at Williams against Virginia Tech last weekend. Here is Williams lining up in the middle of the East Carolina defense, right across from the center and quarterback.

Terry Williams. All rights to respective owners.

ECU runs a 3-4 defense, and Williams anchors the heart of that defense as the nose tackle. If you need a refresher on the 3-4 defense, here you go. Here is the definition of what a good nose tackle should be, from Matt Bowen of Bleacher Report:

"The nose tackle in the 3-4 is the anchor. That means size, strength and core power to command double-teams and keep the interior guards off the inside linebackers. The nose has to be quick off the ball and play with leverage."

Williams is exactly that — he always occupies a double team and is big, strong and quick. He is more than just a run stopper, as well. He stays active in run defense and attacks the quarterback in passing situations.

Here is an example of Williams’s dominance, shown in this shot right after the ball is snapped. Count them — Va. Tech has six white helmets ready on the line of scrimmage to run block. You’d think that one of them would be able to contain Williams, but he shoots by all of them.

Terry Williams. All rights to respective owners.

Williams has taken three steps into the backfield and has blown up the play before almost before the Tech running back can get the ball on the handoff.

Terry Williams. All rights to respective owners.

The result of the play is shown below- no gain and a 3 and 10 for Virginia Tech.

Terry Williams. All rights to respective owners.

Williams doesn’t necessary get credit for the tackle here, but he did what he was suppose to do and blew up the play even before it started. Here is another example of Williams making an impact, this time in the passing game. Notice the swim move — this dude is incredibly athletic with a weight staying north of 350 pounds.

It’s his combination of quickness, strength and experience that allows him to make so many plays and be an unstoppable force when healthy and on the field. That’s the key for Williams, who missed the first two games of the season for the Pirates with a left leg injury. He didn’t play against UNC last year either, which is scary considering the result.

The Tar Heel’s best defense against Williams will be their tempo. ECU tried to limit Williams’s snaps against Virginia Tech because of injury, but if the Tar Heels can pin a tired East Carolina defensive line out on the field, the job of blocking becomes much easier for the offensive line. The counter to that point — UNC has struggled to maintain drives for long periods of time during the season. The offense has either had a quick strike score or stalled out so far this season. Watch to see if Terry Williams can keep making plays if he is pinned out on the field for long stretches of time.

Williams’s health and stamina may be his only flaw at this point in the season. I’m projecting a dominant performance by Williams on Saturday against the Tar Heels, partly from what I saw last week and partly because of whom Williams will be facing this week. With Landon Turner out with injury on Saturday, Williams will be lining up opposite center Lucas Crowley and true freshman Jared Cohen. The UNC OL has apparently been talking some smack about Williams this week…

but they better be ready to face one of the better nose tackles in the country. His strong play in the middle makes the entire ECU defense go. He is always breaking up plays in the backfield, occupies blockers when he doesn’t make a tackle and is just a general terror in the middle of that 3-4 defense. Keep an eye out for number 54 in the purple and gold on Saturday. He will be in the backfield making plays all afternoon long.