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College Football in the Carolinas

View from the East
Monday, December 17, 2001

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

GMAC and Tangerine Bowl Previews


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.

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 eight passes.

Logan has no doubts about using what could have been a redshirt season for Troth.

“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 freshman.

“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 Alabama.

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 special teams.

PREDICTION: East Carolina 35, Marshall 34.

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 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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02/23/2007 01:03:41 AM

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