College Football in the Carolinas
from the East
Monday, December 17, 2001
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer
GMAC and Tangerine Bowl
The good thing about a bowl game this week is that fans, players and
coaches can get back home and finish up their shopping before Christmas.
East Carolina and N.C. State play Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
The Pirates are on their second postseason venture to Mobile, Ala., this
time for an event that has been renamed the GMAC Bowl. It was the Mobile
Alabama (no comma) Bowl in 1999 when ECU played in the inaugural game at
Ladd-Peebles Stadium and lost 28-14 to a TCU team led by LaDainian
Tomlinson. ECU encounters another team with an offensive star this year,
Marshall and prolific passer Byron Leftwich.
The Wolfpack and its opponent, the Pittsburgh Panthers, are each making
return trips to the Tangerine Bowl, a postseason event that is making a
return itself. State beat Pitt 30-17 in the 1978 Tangerine Bowl. Auburn beat
Boston College 33-26 in the last Tangerine Bowl in 1982. The Tangerine Bowl
was founded in 1946 and ECU played in it in successive years, beating
Massachusetts 14-13 in 1964 and Maine 31-0 in 1965.
The record for the season on predictions is 47-19 after going 2-0 for the
games of Dec. 1. Let’s look at how this week’s bowls shape up.
EAST CAROLINA vs. MARSHALL
Wednesday, Dec. 19, 8 p.m., Mobile, AL
THE BARE BONES: This game should send each team’s offensive
strength against the other’s defensive weakness.
The Thundering Herd averages 350.8 yards per game passing, third in the
nation, and it will be facing an ECU defense that is allowing 261.0 yards
per game through the air, last in Conference USA and 101st among 115 teams
in Division I-A.
The running game, led by senior Leonard Henry, has emerged as ECU’s forte
offensively this season. The Pirates average 202.3 yards per game rushing,
22nd nationally. The Herd has been rather porous in its rushing defense,
allowing an average of 217.8 yards per game on the ground, 106th nationally.
The Pirates must find a way to slow down Herd quarterback Byron Leftwich,
whose numbers are staggering — 4,132 yards passing this season with 38
touchdowns and just seven interceptions. The 6-foot-6 junior is completing
67 percent of his passes. His top receivers are a couple of underclassmen.
Sophomore Darius Watts has 91 catches for 1,417 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Freshman Josh Davis has 79 catches for 961 yards with five TDs.
“Their quarterback is extraordinary,” said ECU coach Steve Logan. “He’s
going to play early in the NFL, as soon as he gets there. ... He throws a
beautiful ball and they’ve got two wideouts who are way above average. We’ve
got to make sure we answer offensively. ... Byron Leftwich stays in the
pocket almost exclusively. They’re almost exclusively drop back and pass.”
Sophomore Franklin Wallace leads Marshall’s ground game. He averages 12.7
carries per game and 5.2 yards per carry. A pair of seniors lead Marshall
defensively. Linebacker Max Yates has a team high 159 tackles and was the
MAC defensive player of the year. Defensive end Ralph Street has 72 tackles.
“We’ve got to present him (Leftwich) with something he’s not comfortable
with,” Logan said. “And we’ve got to answer offensively.”
ECU has reduced its blitz package because defensive coordinator Tim Rose
has reasoned that more defenders are needed in coverage. But getting
pressure on the quarterback tends to limit the effectiveness of any passing
game. ECU is a minus-10 for the season in turnovers, but there should be
opportunities for some picks considering that Leftwich is averaging 39.2
passes per game.
Special teams are important, too. ECU has had a breakdown in each of its
last two games, a kickoff returned for a touchdown by Louisville and a high
punt snap that relinquished field position and led to a field goal in the
Southern Miss game.
Regardless of Wednesday night’s outcome, the Pirates have gotten in extra
practices aimed at developing younger players such as freshman quarterback
Paul Troth, who appeared in three games this season and completed two of
Logan has no doubts about using what could have been a redshirt season
“Those snaps he got this season will go light years in keeping him from
getting catatonic when he gets out there next season,” Logan said.
Freshman quarterback Sakeen Wright was limited in the pre-bowl workouts
because of minor surgery but he has more mobility than Troth. Logan also
played receivers Damarcus Fox, Garrett Peterkin and Edwin Rios as true
“That just jump starts them for next year,” Logan said.
Vonta Leach is counted on next year to fill the void at inside linebacker
where Pernell Griffin has become the leading career tackler in Conference
USA history. Closing out the careers of seniors such as quarterback David
Garrard, Henry and Griffin is motivation for the entire team.
The Pirates can utilize their previous experience in Mobile as an
advantage. They know the town and they should feel comfortable at the
stadium. They learned about the mindset necessary for bowl success from
their mistakes on their first trip to Mobile and put it to use last year in
Houston when they beat Texas Tech 40-27.
“We know when it’s time to have fun and when it’s time to get ready to
play football,” said senior offensive lineman Aaron Walker.
NUTS AND BOLTS: Bobby Bowden is scheduled to speak at a Fellowship
of Christian Athletes breakfast at the Adam’s Mark in Mobile this morning.
The Pirates will tour the USS Alabama today and practice at Murphy High
School in Mobile. Mike Ditka will be the guest speaker at a mayor’s luncheon
in Mobile on Tuesday. ... The Pirates are one of 10 programs nationwide who
are averaging over 200 yards per game both rushing and passing. ... ECU
equaled its best finish ever in C-USA, tying for second with a 5-2 league
record. ... ECU is 4-2 in bowl games as a Division I program. ... Marshall
is going for its fourth straight bowl win. It has won the Motor City Bowl
the last three years. ... The Herd was 10-1 and led Toledo 23-0 in the MAC
championship before the Rockets rallied for a 41-36 win. ... Marshall and
ECU are among 30 programs in Division I-A which have had winning regular
season records the last four years. ... ECU leads the series with Marshall,
4-1. The last meeting was a 45-0 Pirates win in 1978 in which ECU athletic
director Mike Hamrick played linebacker for the Herd. ... ECU is 105th
nationally in turnover margin, -0.91 per game. ... The Pirates are 15th
nationally in kickoff returns, averaging 23.7 yards. ... ECU’s Leonard Henry
is sixth in the country with an average of 130.2 yards rushing per game. ...
Pirates punter Jarad Preston is 12th nationally at 44.1-yards per boot. ...
Of its 42 offensive touchdowns this season, ECU’s average drive was two
minutes, 10 seconds and took an average of just 6.4 plays. ECU’s opponents
are averaging almost nine minutes more per game in possession time but the
Pirates are averaging 5.8 points per game more than their foes. ... ECU is
9-2 against current MAC members since 1978. ... ECU is 37 of 38 in scoring
opportunities when moving inside the opponent’s 20-yard line this season.
The only time the Pirates didn’t score was when they let the clock run out
at Army. ... Marshall is No. 25 in the coaches poll but the ranked team has
lost each of the previous two bowl games in Mobile. ... The Herd is 0-2
against bowl teams on its schedule this season, Florida and Toledo. ... ECU
is 47-6 in the Logan era when scoring 28 or more points. The Pirates are
31-6 in that span when holding their opponents to 18 or fewer points. ...
Four of ECU’s last five games, including the bowl, have been played on days
other than Saturday. The Pirates will have played on every day of the week
but Sunday and Monday after meeting Marshall. ... ECU was 2-3 at home this
season and 4-2 on the road. ... ECU is 0-6 in games played in the state of
WHAT WILL HAPPEN: Indicators point to an offensive shootout. For
ECU to emerge the Pirates need to win the turnover battle, run the ball
effectively, slow Marshall’s passing game and play winning football on
PREDICTION: East Carolina 35, Marshall 34.
PITTSBURGH vs. N.C. STATE
Thursday, Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m., Orlando, FL
THE BARE BONES: The Panthers have resurrected an awful season.
Pitt was 1-5 after a 45-7 loss at Boston College on Oct. 20 but has rolled
into Orlando after reeling off five straight wins. A 24-6 win at home over
UAB on Dec. 1 made the Panthers bowl eligible.
Pitt began to turn its season around at a Monday practice following the
loss to BC. The Panthers don’t normally practice on Mondays.
“I told the team not to come to that practice unless they were totally
committed,” said Panthers coach Walt Harris, whose team played at Temple the
following Saturday. “I told them I didn’t care about the score, ‘Just
convince me that you want it more than they do.’ ”
The Pitt players made their case with a 33-7 trouncing of the Owls.
The Panthers averaged 17.0 points their first six games and 32.0 in their
last five. They allowed an average of 31.5 points in their first six games
and just 7.4 since. Pitt reverted to a basic I formation from a spread
offense when the turnaround took place.
The running game and play action passes featuring quarterback David
Priestly helped the Panthers to an eye-opening 38-7 blasting of No. 12
Virginia Tech on Nov. 3. Pitt has played better in almost every phase of the
game since midseason.
N.C. State, too, finished strong with wins in four of its last five. The
centerpiece in that surge was a 34-28 win at Florida State as the Wolfpack
became the first football team to win an ACC game in Tallahassee. State’s
only loss down the stretch was 23-19 to Maryland when the league champion
Terps drove for a score in the final minute.
State quarterback Philip Rivers missed the end of State’s regular-season
ending triumph over Ohio but he has been taking part in pre-bowl workouts.
Should be interesting to see which of these strong-finishing clubs ends its
season with a victory.
NUTS AND BOLTS: Pitt leads the overall series with NCSU 4-2-1
although the Wolfpack won the last meeting 14-3 in 1988. ... Pitt is 31-22-1
all-time against ACC teams with games against every member except Wake
Forest. ... Pitt was minus-10 on turnovers in its first six games. The
Panthers are a plus-3 since then. ... Pitt has an 8-12 record in bowl games,
dating back to a 7-6 loss to Stanford in the 1927 Rose Bowl. Pitt lost 37-29
to Iowa State last year in the Insight.com Bowl. Pitt lost 41-7 to Southern
Miss in the 1997 Liberty Bowl. The last bowl win for the Panthers was a
31-28 victory over Texas A&M in the 1989 John Hancock Bowl. ... Pitt rushed
for 152 yards against a UAB defensive unit that had been allowing just 47.8
rushing yards per game. ... Against a West Virginia defense that was
yielding just 122.2 yards passing, the Panthers threw for 282 yards with two
touchdowns and no interceptions. ... During Pitt’s five-game winning streak,
it allowed just 41.4 rushing yards and 141.2 passing yards per game. ...
Raymond Kirkley averages 58.6 yards rushing for Pitt. ... The top receivers
are Antonio Bryant, who averages 65.9 yards in receptions per game, and R.J.
English, who averages 69.1. ... Free safety Ramon Walker has 120 tackles for
Pitt and middle linebacker Gerald Hayes has 104. ... State is averaging 27.3
points per game and allowing an average of 20.3. ... Ray Robinson leads
State’s rushing with 733 yards on 190 attempts, an average of 3.9 yards per
carry. ... Philip Rivers has thrown for 2,586 yards with 16 touchdowns and
seven interceptions. He is completing 65.2 percent of his passes. ... Wide
receiver Bryan Peterson has 657 yards in receptions for the Pack and 10
different players have touchdown catches, led by tight end Willie Wright
with five. ... Free safety Brian Williams leads State in interceptions with
three. ... Kicker Adam Kiker connected on 13 of 14 field goals with a
longest of 41 yards. ... State’s top tacklers include linebacker Levar
Fisher with 147, linebacker Dantonio Burnette with 110 and strong safety
Terrence Holt with 106. Holt has blocked four kicks this season. State
defensive end Corey Smith has forced six fumbles.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN: Pitt may have the edge in physicality while
State may be slightly faster overall. Big plays and turnovers may decide it.
PREDICTION: Pitt 28, N.C. State 27
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