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College Football in the Carolinas
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View from the East
Thursday, January 10, 2002

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

2002 Football: Never Too Soon to Peer Ahead

©2001 Bonesville.net

For some East Carolina fans, it’s always football season. So even though the start of spring practice is over a month away and the 2001 season was completed less than a month ago, it’s not too early to take a look at how the Pirates will match up against their non-conference competition in 2002.

ECU is scheduled to play Duke, Wake Forest and West Virginia on the road next season. The games at Duke and Wake are accessible to many ECU fans so the “road” label is negligible.

The Pirates will host South Florida, which joins Conference USA in 2003, for one of five home games. There will be eight league games next season, four at home and four on the road.

The NCAA is allowing teams to play 12 games next season and in 2003. ECU won’t play one league team next year but the conference schedule has not yet been announced.

So, for those year-round ECU football fans, it’s not too early to look at some elements of those non-conference match-ups:

Click these links to jump to previews of projected 2002 non-league foes.

Duke Wake Forest West Virginia South Florida

DUKE

The Pirates will probably open the season at Wallace Wade Stadium, as they did in 2000 when ECU defeated the Blue Devils 38-0.

Duke has that nation’s longest 23-game losing streak but will miss just 12 seniors from its most recent 0-11 team. The best of those seniors was tight end Mike Hart, a first team All ACC selection in 2001. Hart had 30 catches for 476 yards last season and led the team in touchdown catches with four.

Other significant losses include receiver Ben Erdeljac, who led the Blue Devils in catches (42) and reception yardage (684), defensive back Ronnie Hamilton (45 solo tackles, 15.6 yards average on punt returns), defensive end Charles Porter (47 tackles, six for loss) and defensive end Nate Krill (45 tackles, seven for loss).

There has also been some transition in the coaching staff. Coach Carl Franks dismissed defensive coordinator Bob Trott, a 1976 UNC graduate, after the Blue Devils yielded an average of 44.6 points per game last season.

“I appreciate Bob Trott’s loyalty, hard work and dedication to Duke football,” Franks said when the move was announced in December. “We’ve reached the point where it is time to make a change with our defense.”

Franks had his eye on Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof following George O’Leary’s departure to Notre Dame but Roof was retained by new Yellow Jackets coach Chan Gailey, who also hired Joe D’Alessandris, Duke’s offensive line coach, who will fill the same position at Tech.

Duke has quarterback D. Bryant returning for his senior season. Bryant threw for 2,454 yards last season but his completion percentage (48.7) and his touchdowns (11) to interceptions (17) ratio were not pretty.

Chris Douglas is back after running for 841 yards and seven touchdowns. Douglas also caught 26 passes for 233 yards. Khary Sharpe had 23 catches for 274 yards as a freshman.

Duke’s offense may have difficulty preparing for ECU since Pirates defensive coordinator Tim Rose is expected to make some schematic changes in the off-season.

Defensively, the Devils return their top six tacklers from last season. Outside linebacker Ryan Fowler led with 127 stops (70 solo, 57 assists) and also had the most sacks with three.

Punter Trey McDonald (38.4 yards average) and kicker Brent Garber (6-9 FG) return on special teams. Douglas (20.9 yard average) was the busiest kick returner but replacements will have to be found for Hamilton and Erdeljac, the top punt returners.

ECU can expect Duke’s best shot. The Blue Devils have all spring and preseason practice to prepare for a Pirates team that must replace some key personnel, including quarterback David Garrard.

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WAKE FOREST

The Deacons got a 6-5 season of improvement jump started with a surprising 21-19 win in Greenville last year. Wake ran for 290 yards in that game with a productive misdirection package from its spread formation.

Quarterbacks James MacPherson and Anthony Young are back. MacPherson finished the season as the starter the last five games after Young broke a bone in his foot against Duke. The Deacons are also deep at running back where Tavares Williams, Fred Staton and Nick Burney all had moments last season.

Williams ran for 1,018 yards behind an offensive line led by guard Michael Collins, an All ACC selection. Collins and center Vince Azzolina are significant losses.

Speedy receiver/returner John Stone is also gone. Key defensive losses include linebacker Marquis Hopkins, the team’s top tackler, and end Nate Bolling, who was third on the tackle chart. Wake must also replace kicker Tyler Ashe.

Wake snuck up on the Pirates last season with new schemes installed by first-year coach Jim Grobe, whose challenge is maintaining a degree of success at a program that has had consecutive winning seasons only once since 1971 (1987 and ’88 in Bill Dooley’s first two seasons).

Former coach Jim Caldwell obviously left some talent in the program that Grobe transformed from a 2-9 debacle the preceding season. The Deacs were beaten only once by more than a touchdown.

How well Grobe’s staff can recruit is a key to sustaining success. Three starters are gone on each side of the ball from the lineup Wake used against Northern Illinois in the season finale, a 38-35 win in Winston-Salem. The Deacons will open next season at Northern Illinois before playing ECU.

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WEST VIRGINIA

The Mountaineers' fans may have appreciated former coach Don Nehlen even more after going 3-8 in their first season with alumnus Rich Rodriguez as head coach. Two of the wins were over MAC teams, Ohio and Kent State. WVU also pounded hapless Rutgers 80-7, one of the few times Rodriguez’s offensive reputation was legitimized.

Perhaps predictably, it was the defensive coordinator, Phil Elmassian, who took a fall for the disappointing season, resigning in December. The Mountaineers will have co-defensive coordinators next season, both of whom were promoted from last year’s staff, Jeff Casteel and Todd Graham.

“It’s a situation where I’ve got a couple of pretty good football coaches that have experience as coordinators and have good chemistry,” Rodriguez said. “It takes good chemistry to be able to do something of this nature.”

The Mountaineers lose three starters on offense, including receivers Shawn Terry (29 catches, 291 yards) and Antonio Brown (31 catches, 291 yards). Five starters depart on defense including the team’s top three tacklers — linebacker Kyle Kayden, free safety Rick Sherrod and “Whip” Shawn Hackett. Kicker Brendan Rauh (13-15 FG) is also gone.

The Pirates should hope to get a warm weather date in Morgantown. That happened in the season opener in 1997 when WVU won 24-17 over an ECU team that featured the passing of Dan Gonzalez and not a whole lot more. The Pirates got a November trip in 2000 after the game was shifted to allow a September game on a Thursday night with Virginia Tech in Greenville. The Mountaineers won the last meeting, Nehlen’s last home game, 42-24, on a bitterly-cold afternoon that featured some pregame snow. ECU lost four offensive linemen to injuries and Pirates coach Steve Logan said his players could have used a practice on the synthetic turf at WVU to get adjusted to the playing surface.

ECU defeated the Mountaineers 30-23 in Charlotte to open the 1999 season. WVU leads the series, 11-2, including 8-0 in Morgantown.

Rodriguez said his staff is recruiting all positions.

“We need a little bit at about every position,” he said. “But we’re probably looking for a little bit more immediate help at receiver and maybe immediate help on defense in the secondary, linebackers and defensive line. (Is there anything else on defense?) Obviously, quarterback is a big need because we only have two quarterbacks on scholarship, so we’ve got to find guys who can run the system.”

Brad Lewis is expected to return at quarterback for WVU. As a sophomore, he completed 12 of 24 for 290 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in that 2000 game with the Pirates. The Mountaineers led 29-7 in that game before ECU rallied.

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SOUTH FLORIDA

Now this is an underrated team. The Bulls went 8-3 last season with no hint of a bowl bid. They beat the Pittsburgh team that handled N.C. State in the Tangerine Bowl, but lost 17-9 at C-USA member Memphis. They hammered league member Houston, 45-6. The Bulls also beat Sun Belt Conference champion North Texas, another bowl team, 28-10.

The Bulls were in their first year in Division I-A and just their fifth overall. They competed as an independent in 2001, just as ECU did from 1977 to 1996.

Jim Leavitt is regarded as an up and coming coach at the Tampa-based program and will bring a talented quarterback, senior Marquel Blackwell, to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Blackwell threw for 2,882 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, completing 56.6 percent of his passes. He also has the running dimension with nine rushing touchdowns. Blackwell threw 65 times in a 35-26 win at Pitt, completing 37 for 343 yards and four touchdowns.

Returning free safety J.R. Reed had five interceptions and was third on the team with 89 tackles. He also recovered three fumbles. Defensive end Chris Daley had 9.5 sacks in his junior season. Junior DeAndrew Rubin had a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown in a 34-13 season-ending win over Utah State. Freshman defensive end Shurron Pierson had three sacks, forced a fumble and made a fumble recovery in that game.

The Bulls lose just two starters on offense — both of their guards. They have signed junior college standout Jason Lehman (6-4, 315) from Cerritos College in Norwalk, Cal. and he should help fill one of those voids.

South Florida is a talented independent team looking for respect. Funny. Those qualities used to describe the Pirates and those factors make the matchup with the Bulls a dangerous game.

“I don’t know why we wouldn’t be somebody that someone (bowl committee) would at least think about,” said Leavitt after the Utah State game gave his team their 8-3 mark. That must have been similar to what Coach Logan was thinking after the Pirates went 8-3 and stayed home during bowl season in 1996.

The Bulls will be an opponent the Pirates can not afford to overlook.

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02/23/2007 12:58:20 AM
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