College football on Saturday on the Division I-A level in
the Carolinas was a testimony to inconsistency. In the only two games,
Southern Miss beat East Carolina 24-7 and Maryland won 32-14 over Wake
That was the same Southern Miss team that had lost 31-10 to
Tulane the previous week. ECU had beaten the Green Wave 24-20 earlier this
season. The Pirates were coming off a 31-28 win over then-No. 22 Texas
Maryland was a much different team from the one that had
been hammered 48-13 seven days earlier by rival Virginia. The Terps scored
24 points in the second quarter against the Demon Deacons and led 27-0 at
Hard to figure, but this much we do know ó the Pirates will
be home for the holidays without a share of the Conference USA title, and
the Deacons, although bowl eligible at 6-6, have about as much appeal to a
bowl selection committee as a case of poison ivy because of their small fan
One trend was upheld in Hattiesburg, MS, and that was ECUís
historic struggle against the Golden Eagles. Southern Miss improved to 5-1
in the series since the two programs began playing in Conference USA. The
Pirates trail 7-21 in the overall series.
Maryland has a similar record of domination in its series
with Wake Forest as the Terps lead 37-13-1.
Maybe ECUís history of success against Cincinnati will play
into the Piratesí home game at 7 p.m. on Friday (ESPN 2). ECU is 7-0 at home
against the Bearcats, who will be playing for a share of the league
championship as well as bowl eligibility.
The Pirates lead the overall series, 12-2. Cincinnati coach
Rick Minter is 1-5 against ECU, including a 28-26 loss last season at
Cincinnati. The Pirates led 28-6 at the half at Cincinnati but then the
puzzling inability of the 2001 team to maintain a lead kicked in.
Bearcats freshman quarterback Gino Guidugli was knocked out
of last yearís game with a shoulder injury and his back-up, George Murray,
led the Cincinnati comeback. Murray scored on an 8-yard touchdown run with
46 seconds left to draw Cincinnati within two points, at 28-26, but ECUís
Christshawn Gilliam tackled Bearcats running back DeMarco McCleskey at the
sideline on an option play to preserve the win for the Pirates.
The versatile Gilliam was in a different role on Saturday at
Southern Miss. The senior linebacker transformed himself into a running back
in place of the injured Art Brown, who was out with a severely-strained
groin. That apparently is a catch-22 of physical practice sessions for the
Outside linebacker John Williamson was a casualty earlier as
ECU intensified the physicality of its workouts after the loss at West
Virginia. Williamson broke his arm before the Army game.
To be sure, the absence of Brown was a factor in ECUís poor
showing offensively at Southern Miss. Taking away a player who is averaging
102.9 yards per game rushing is significant not only in terms of his
individual production but in terms of the balance which his presence brings
to the unit as well. Brown is a threat to make a big play any time he
touches the ball.
The passing game suffers without a running threat that the
defense must respect. The Pirates managed just 154 yards of total offense,
their lowest output of the season and the least allowed by the Southern Miss
defense in 2002. Forced to pass after Southern Miss had taken control on the
scoreboard, the Pirates were susceptible to the Golden Eagles blitz package.
The Pirates must regroup to face a Cincinnati defense that
is third in C-USA in yards allowed per game at 328.1.
One thing Pirates coach Steve Logan has said about this
yearís team is that it hasnít needed external motivation. The youthful
composition of this yearís team has produced an enthusiasm that has made the
Pirates excited about playing, regardless of the circumstances.
ďItís a very inspirational quality of this yearís team,Ē
said Logan. ďIt makes them fun to coach.Ē
Friday night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium will be mainly about
winning a football game for the Pirates ó and just maybe, that will be
Given the inconsistency of college football, however, itís
difficult to know what to expect.