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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Thursday, November 14, 2002

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

ECU defensive front may be key at Legion Field



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UAB quarterback Darrel Hackney reminds East Carolina coach Steve Logan of former Pirates quarterback David Garrard.

There are good and bad connotations to such an association.

As Logan sat in his office on Monday afternoon watching tape of the Blazers’ offense, he saw some of Garrard’s tendencies on the screen again — bullish scrambles out of the pocket and the ability to wing the ball 40 yards on a line. When Hackney ran into problems was when he held onto the ball too long, relying on his physical strength to withstand a rush.

He also threw some darts amidst converging defensive backs.

“Just like David,” Logan said. “Trying to pinpoint a laser through coverage. Have fun Watson (a reference to the UAB coach, Watson Brown).”

Brown, incidentally, is a former ECU assistant. He served on Pat Dye’s Pirates staff in 1974 and 1975. His brother is former North Carolina and current Texas coach, Mack Brown.

The main criticism of Hackney is that he needs to learn the situations when he should throw the ball away. The UAB offensive line is also suspect to a degree. They’re generally big but not overwhelmingly athletic. They didn’t appear to run block or pass protect with a great deal of proficiency.

Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at Legion Field in Birmingham may be a game that can be decided by superior play by the ECU front seven on defense, as strange as that may sound.

UAB is not nearly as talented on its own defensive front as a year ago when defensive lineman Bryan Thomas and linebacker Rod Taylor were helping the Blazers lead the nation in rushing defense at an average of just 57.8 yards per game.

This year the Blazers are yielding 156.0 yards per game on the ground, a number that has been on the decline since Florida rolled up 233 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground in a 51-3 win in UAB’s season opener.

Hackney, who wears No. 4 — the same as emerging ECU quarterback Paul Troth, has completed 109 passes in 212 attempts for 1,331 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. Hackney moved into the starting role ahead of senior Thomas Cox earlier this season. Cox was 6-1 as a starter going into the season, including a 36-17 win over ECU in 1999, a mystifying game that ECU led 17-3.

Hackney turned an ankle last week in a 20-13 home loss to Southern Miss but is expected to play against the Pirates. Former ECU sports information director Norm Reilly also said Hackney, a redshirt freshman from Atlanta that the Pirates had some interest in, has been nursing sore knees.

UAB led Southern Miss 13-10 in the fourth quarter. UAB’s top rusher is a true freshman and hometown product, Dan Burks, who is averaging 40.8 yards on the ground per game.

Turnaround possibility

The manner in which ECU came from 17 points down in the fourth quarter to win a 54-48 triple overtime thriller at Houston on Saturday gives the Pirates hope of turning the season around. A loss would have dropped the team to 2-6 overall and out of realistic contention for the Conference USA championship with two league losses.

““With the level of maturity on this team, we would have probably taken it really hard if we hadn’t beaten Houston,” said ECU sophomore quarterback Paul Troth. “We would have had the attitude that we were better than them but we lost the game. We could have used that excuse like we had with other teams.

“Our coaches would have helped us out but I really feel like if we had lost that game the season probably would have gone on a little bit of a downward spiral from that point because we would have had to win out to even go to a bowl game. But we didn’t lose, which is exciting.”

ECU improved to 3-1 in C-USA going into the game at UAB, which is rated a virtual toss-up. The Pirates are tied in the loss column with Southern Miss and Texas Christian in the league race. The Golden Eagles face a challenge from Louisville in Hattiesburg, Miss. on Thursday night. TCU is idle until visiting the Pirates on Nov. 23.

“I’ve never heard a speech as honest as Coach Logan at halftime of the Houston game,” Troth said. “He wasn’t yelling. He wasn’t screaming. He just told us that if we lose, our season’s over. If we win, it’s going to define us the rest of the year.”

Coach Logan has adopted a wait-and-see approach as far as the effects of the win at Houston are concerned.

“That thing will help, if we do something with it,” Logan said. “There are ways that you can get confidence and move on with something like that as far as chemistry. From the (4th quarter) 12-minute mark on in that game, they had three drives: four and out, seven and out, and a three and out with a fumble.

“The point being, our defense played their assignments properly and did what we asked them to do. It has never been an effort issue with the defense, or the offense. It has been an execution issue."

ECU offensive tackle Brian Rimpf said the win at Houston had improved the team’s outlook.

“We know we can win on the last play of the game,” Rimpf said. “We know we can take teams to overtime and come out with a victory. The last time we were in overtime (64-61 loss to Marshall in 3 OTs in the 2001 GMAC Bowl) we didn’t come out with a victory. Now we know we’ve got the stamina to go that far and we’ve got the heart to take it to the last play to win it.”

The league championship remains the goal.

“We control our own destiny and that’s all you can ask for,” Rimpf said. “We’re going to take it one game at a time but if you look farther, if we win out, we can be conference champions. That was our goal at the start of the year. It’s great knowing that you control your own destiny. You don’t have to watch other teams and their schedule. It’s in your hands.”

Loss for Rios

The postgame celebration at Houston was dampened to a degree by news that a 92-year old grandfather of sophomore receiver Edwin Rios had passed away during the game. Rios left the team to be with family but was expected back for practice on Wednesday. The funeral is Saturday but Rios is expected to travel with the team.

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02/23/2007 12:59:08 AM

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