Midday showers gave way to a hot and steamy practice for East Carolina on Tuesday. In other words, swamp weather. And the Pirates better get used to the environment.
That’s where they’ll spend Saturday night.
East Carolina (1-0) will head south to play Florida (1-0) inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, aka The Swamp, in a nationally televised game on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.
The Swamp holds 88,548 fans, double the size of the largest crowd East Carolina’s first-year starting quarterback Blake Kemp, a junior college transfer, has ever played in front of. The largest crowd?
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“Last week against Towson,” Kemp said.
Approximately 40,000 fans watched the Pirates hold off Towson 28-20 last Saturday.
Kemp and the Pirates can expect double the crowd, double the noise Saturday. The Gators beat New Mexico State in Jim McElwain’s debut coach last weekend.
I talked to Shane a little bit about it a couple of weeks ago and he said, ‘Man, once you get going it’s just like playing in your backyard. Once the first snap goes it’s just like any other game,’” Kemp said. “So that’s what I hope happens.
ECU QB Blake Kemp on talking with Shane Carden about big games, big crowds
Before Kemp arrived at ECU last year, he played at Mesa Community College.
“It’s a lot different than community college back in Arizona,” ECU offensive coordinator Dave Nichol said. “I coached (junior college) ball there for a while, and we had more people on the sidelines than in the stands sometimes.”
Shane Carden, the record-setting quarterback who graduated after last season, played in several big games with the Pirates and offered Kemp some advice.
“I talked to Shane a little bit about it a couple of weeks ago and he said, ‘Man, once you get going, it’s just like playing in your backyard. Once the first snap goes it’s just like any other game,’” Kemp said. “So that’s what I hope happens.”
Kemp not only learned from listening to Carden, but from watching.
“One of the things he did was that he never got rattled,” Kemp said. “He’d take some huge shots or he’d make some mistakes, but he always got back up and played the next play.”
Kemp made his first career start for ECU last week and gave a competent performance, completing 29-of-37 passes for 230 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
He will face much stiffer competition Saturday. Florida’s secondary is led by All-American candidate cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, already projected as a top-five NFL draft pick.
The Pirates know plenty about Hargreaves. He ended the Pirates’ hopes of winning the Birmingham Bowl last year by intercepting Carden in the end zone late in the fourth quarter to cement a 28-20 victory.
“He’s quick,” Kemp said of Hargreaves III. “He’s quick on his feet. He’s quick to back pedal then come up. He’s just a good player.”
Navigating around Hargreaves III and the Gators defense will be a challenge, but Kemp’s biggest issue might be communicating with his teammates through the crowd noise.
“The biggest thing for me is that I have to over-communicate,” Kemp said. “The signals have to be more clear. Last week I was able to say the play out loud, this week I will have to use my hands a little bit better, and that’s something I need to work on.”
The Pirates pumped in crowd noise Tuesday during practice, something they will continue to do all week, while the offensive linemen practiced going off a silent count.
Nichol felt confident his quarterback will be able to handle Florida’s hostile environment.
“It’s 22 guys on a field. ... We just have to communicate better,” Nichol said. “(Kemp’s) the type of kid where I don’t think we’ll really have to worry about him.”