East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill hasn’t slept much since the Pirates’ stunning 32-30 last-second loss to Central Florida, but a win against Florida in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3 might help the fifth-year coach get some rest.
“It was tough for us, and tough for me and the seniors,” McNeill said during Monday’s Birmingham Bowl news conference. “I didn’t sleep from Thursday until today.”
On Monday, it was reported that East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley attempted to take responsibility following the loss, in which the offense did not attempt a handoff, pass or field goal on its final possession in the waning moments. The attempt to milk the clock failed and led to Central Florida’s game-winning touchdown pass.
Riley said he did not communicate well enough with quarterback Shane Carden, but McNeill said all blame begins and ends with him.
“I saw Lincoln’s comments today. Lincoln’s class, that’s why I love him and it’s more than coaching. He’s a class act,” McNeill said. “All decisions rest with me. We made the best decisions at that time.”
East Carolina (8-4) must now focus on Florida (6-5).
“After (Sunday) night, addressing that team and looking in those boys’ eyes, we’re ready to move on and get ready for Birmingham,” McNeill said.
The Pirates found out their bowl fate Sunday, and athletic director Jeff Compher said that finding a marque opponent was a critical element in selecting the right bowl destination.
“We know we have five (AAC bowl) affiliations and the conference has a process. They look at conference champions, they look a region and they look at matchups,” Compher said. “Matchups were key here because a lot of our fans were thinking about going to the Military Bowl (in Annapolis), and that certainly would have been an easy drive for us, but with Virginia Tech going there that matchup, being a rematch, really doesn’t work out.
“… I think for our fan base it’s exciting to be able to play a school from a Power Five conference. We always say we want to play at the highest level and this is an opportunity to do that. I think our fans will react very well to that and come out in force like they always have and support our Pirates. It certainly adds to it when you play a premier program like Florida.”
Hardy wins walk-on award: Justin Hardy, a former walk-on who became the NCAA’s career record holder for receptions, won the Burlsworth Trophy, which goes to the nation’s best former walk-on.
Hardy has 376 career receptions, including 110 this season.