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College Sports in the Carolinas
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View from the East
Monday, October 7, 2002

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Blowout win validates end of cakewalk practice sessions

©2002 Bonesville.net

The temperature was an August-like 94 degrees at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday and, in a sense, that was appropriate, because the East Carolina football team looked a lot like it probably should have coming out of preseason practice.

The Pirates nailed Army 59-24 with a brand of football more recognizable to ECU fans than that played for the most part in a 1-3 start.

It took a tough week of practice but the Pirates may have found a pulse.

Turnovers that were so influential in the losses at Duke and Wake Forest appear to be under control. The Pirates were a plus-2 on turnover margin against the Cadets. The rushing defense that had been so abused at West Virginia held the Cadets below their season average.

True, Army is a struggling team, but ECU overcame the tendency to play on the level of its competition.

The Pirates brought a new focus into their second Conference USA game of the season, a mindset forged by practices Tuesday and Wednesday designed to raise the bar on the teamís mental and physical toughness. Instead of working the first unit offense and first defense against scout teams, ECU coach Steve Logan scrimmaged the two first teams against one another last week.

Ideally, Logan has sought to avoid letting his players beat each other up. Last week, the action got rough enough that one result was a broken arm for outside linebacker John Williamson.

Logan reduced scrimmaging in spring practice in 2002 because of knee injuries to H-back Damarcus Fox and defensive back Travis Cox. Logan once told me that the less physical style was more along the lines of how NFL teams prepare. It has worked for some ECU teams in some seasons but every team has a different personality and Logan perceived that this group had gotten a little soft based on the performance at West Virginia.

Logan prefers a more intellectual approach to the game but if grunt work in the trenches is what it takes, then heíll deliver the marching orders. In contrast to the recent routines, the Pirates went out in full pads and tackled to the ground last week. It was full-speed football and it seemed to make a difference in the product on the field on Saturday.

ECU has been going out midweek in helmets and shoulder pads. The players hit but they donít go to the ground. After getting physically beat at West Virginia, Logan felt changes in preparation were needed.

It may not have been what the players wanted but it was what they needed.

Quarterback Paul Troth didnít get hit in the practices Tuesday and Wednesday but felt the faster, game-like conditions that were created helped him be better prepared for game day. Defensive lineman Hosea James thought the more-intense workouts served to bring the team together.

Logan said some players responded better to the challenges than others and those players got more playing time on Saturday as a result. It may be difficult for some players to have relatively light practices during the week and then turn up their competitive level in games.

ECU has discovered a need and addressed it. If players work hard enough during the week, perhaps they will appreciate the opportunity to perform on Saturdays.

The Pirates played with a greater sense of urgency against Army and it was good to see East Carolina playing East Carolina football again.

If it takes more war games during the week for the Pirates to continue playing at that level, so be it. It may not be Loganís personality to be so physically demanding but heís learned over the years to keep exploring to find what each particular team needs to be successful.

The mystery of why last yearís team was so inconsistent was never really solved but perhaps the basis for the lackluster early efforts that plagued this yearís team have been discovered.

ECUís performance against Army got the Pirates out of the basement in the State Line Power Rankings. N.C. Stateís status as the top dog will be challenged this week with a trip to rival North Carolina. Victorious South Carolina climbed past Clemson, losers of Bowden Bowl IV. Hereís how they stack up this week:


STATE LINE POWER RANKINGS©
  1. N.C. State ... The Wolfpack has an open date before taking its 6-0 record to Chapel Hill.
  2. South Carolina ... The Gamecocks take an impressive SEC win over Mississippi State.
  3. Clemson ... Tigers stay in the game at Florida State for a long time on Thursday night.
  4. Wake Forest ... Jim Grobe continues to work wonders with win at Georgia Tech.
  5. North Carolina ... Tar Heels yield yards but get victory at Arizona State.
  6. East Carolina ... Pirates are 2-0 at home and 2-0 in Conference USA.
  7. Duke ... The Blue Devils are much more competitive this season.
SNAPSHOTS FROM AROUND THE CAROLINAS

N.C. STATE (6-0, 1-0 ACC)

The Wolfpack has lost eight of its last nine to the Tar Heels and will try to take advantage of a defense that gave up 657 yards in UNCís win at Arizona State. Itís time to see whether a relatively easy schedule allowed State to develop confidence and national attention or whether it poorly prepared the Pack for the meat of its league schedule.

SOUTH CAROLINA (3-2, 2-1 SEC)

Gamecocks quarterback Corey Jenkins figured prominently as coach Lou Holtzís team built a 21-0 lead but he had to sit out most of the second half of a 34-10 home win over Mississippi State with a sprained left ankle. The Bulldogs didnít get on the board until midway through the third quarter. USC plays at Kentucky on Saturday.

CLEMSON (3-2, 1-1 ACC)

The Tigers rolled for 341 yards on offense in the first half but gave up some big plays that allowed Florida State to lead at the break and go on to a 48-31 win in a Thursday night ESPN game in Tallahassee. Willie Simmons was 17 of 27 for 293 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Tigers, who play at Virginia on Saturday.

WAKE FOREST (3-3, 1-2 ACC)

Tarence Williams had his best game this season after breaking a bone in a foot during the summer. Williams ran for 99 yards on 19 carries and scored the winning touchdown in a 24-21 win at Georgia Tech from 10 yards out with 5:29 remaining. The Deacons are 4-2 on the road in the ACC in Grobeís tenure and 0-5 at home in league play with Duke coming to Winston-Salem on Saturday.

NORTH CAROLINA (2-3, 0-1 ACC)

Darian Durant threw four touchdown passes to Chesley Borders, including the game winner, a 74-yarder in the Tar Heelsí 38-35 win at Arizona State with 2:39 remaining. The Heels allowed the Sun Devils to pile up 657 yards of total offense, including 474 passing by Andrew Walter but survived on five turnovers and four missed field goals by the hosts.

DUKE (2-4, 0-2 ACC)

The Blue Devils limited Virginia to two yards rushing but Cavaliers quarterback Matt Schaub took up the slack with 315 yards passing as coach Al Grohís team prevailed 27-22 in Durham. Chris Douglas had 126 yards rushing for Duke but fullback Alex Wade was limited to 50 before leaving in the fourth quarter with a left ankle ailment.
 

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Click here to dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 12:59:18 AM
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