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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Monday, September 2, 2002

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Drenching defeat revealed hints of sunshine


East Carolina football coach Steve Logan found a silver lining in those rain clouds over Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday night.

In the aftermath of a 23-16 upset that snapped a 23-game losing streak for Duke, Logan was positive about his team’s ability to get back in the game from a 20-0 deficit, Paul Troth’s first start at quarterback and about improvements in the defense.

Logan’s first statement in his postgame news conference was to congratulate Duke coach Carl Franks, which was entirely proper.

“He’s put together a fine young team,” Logan said. “They played well and took advantage of our mistakes. They took care of the ball. We didn’t. That was just about the end of the game right there.”

Duke’s 4-0 edge in turnovers was much more decisive than the final score. The Blue Devils’ first 10 points came on possessions following ECU turnovers and a 28-yard interception return put Duke up 20-0 with 8:44 left in the first half. That’s 17 points in a seven-point game and that’s the short answer to what produced such a stunning outcome.

ECU did not have a first down prior to the interception return but pieced together a 65-yard drive to get within 20-7 on its next series. Art Brown rushed for 30 of his 46 yards for the game, including a 2-yard touchdown carry on that drive.

But the running game’s net of a mere 25 yards was disappointing, considering the offensive line was perceived as a strength of this year’s team. Logan said that Leonard Henry would have been more effective under the conditions at Duke because he was more of a straight-ahead runner. Brown and his back-up, Marvin Townes, rely on speed and cutting ability, which was obviously reduced by the amount of water that had fallen on the playing surface.

The lack of running production placed more pressure on Troth to move the team with his passing, a situation the Pirates wanted to avoid in their game plan. The general struggle of the receivers to hang on to catchable passes was another problem.

“Any time you don’t have a running game, it puts a lot of pressure on a quarterback,” said the Pirates coach. “But we’ll go back. I’m pretty confident we’ll get our running game put together again.”

ECU’s restructured defense is designed to defend against spread offenses which predominate in Conference USA. But ECU’s speedy young linebackers were overmatched by Alex Wade, Duke’s bruising fullback, in the slippery conditions in the season opener. Wade ran for 109 yards and gave Duke a ball-control dimension after ECU had trimmed the lead to 20-16.

Chris Douglas, Duke’s leading rusher a year ago was a non-factor with 10 carries for 26 yards but Wade averaged 4.5 yards per tote. Adjustments to big backs such as Wake Forest’s Ovie Mughelli and Southern Miss’ Derrick Nix will have to be made.

Still, Duke converted only six of 18 third downs. Foes converted 45 percent against ECU last year so that area showed improvement.

“We played better third down defense than we did all of last year,” Logan said.

Troth was 13 for 31 for 130 yards with three interceptions and would have easily completed 50 percent of his passes in trying conditions had his receivers had an average night.

“I liked a lot of the things I saw with Paul,” Logan said. “He made one bad read when he threw the interception that went for a touchdown. That was really his only big mistake. He showed very good mobility. He moved around the pocket well. I think he’s going to be a really, really fine quarterback. I’m highly, highly encouraged with what I saw tonight.”

The Pirates will be a better team than a loss to Duke would indicate. Logan is 3-8 in season openers, with many against national powers. But his career record is 65-51. The ship can be righted. Hey, ECU’s best season ever, the 11-1 Peach Bowl champs in 1991, started with a 38-31 loss at Illinois. That was the only other game the Pirates have played on Aug. 31.

  1. N.C. State ... The Wolfpack takes care of business against nobody No. 2.
  2. South Carolina ... Maybe Holtz was right, New Mexico State did play tough.
  3. Clemson ... No disgrace in losing a tight game between the hedges.
  4. Duke ... Devils adjusted to conditions and used them to their advantage.
  5. East Carolina ... Pirates managed to bring out the best in Duke with four turnovers.
  6. Wake Forest ... Grobe failed to properly address special team voids in the offseason.
  7. North Carolina ... How many turnovers? No wonder Logan threw Durant’s scholarship release away.

N.C. STATE: The Wolfpack wasted little time in seizing control against East Tennessee State, a Division I-AA Southern Conference opponent. Lamont Reid ran the opening kickoff back 90 yards for a score and State cruised 34-0 in the rain. Up next is a trip to Navy, which has former State defensive coordinator Buddy Green running its defense. The Middies, winless last season, drummed host SMU 38-7 to get their season started on Saturday.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Lou Holtz tied Bo Schembechler with his 234th career victory before the Gamecock’s largest season opening crowd (83,717). New quarterback Corey Jenkins completed 9 of 18 for 166 yards as the Aggies stayed close. Jenkins is a 26-year old senior who played minor league baseball. The Gamecocks visit Virginia on Saturday.

CLEMSON: The Tigers faced a 21-7 deficit at Georgia on Saturday and rallied to lead 28-21 before the Bulldogs used a 43-yard field goal by Billy Bennett with 5:19 left for a 31-28 win. Clemson limited Georgia to 203 total yards. Clemson’s Aaron Hunt missed a 46-yard field goal with 1:43 left that would have tied it. Clemson has its first home game with Louisiana Tech on Saturday. The Tigers lost starting corner Toure Francis to a knee injury.

DUKE: Alex Wade gave Duke the ground game it needed and his team derived immense advantage from the 17 points it scored after ECU turnovers on Saturday night. The Blue Devils may not be as effective on a dry field but there’s no question about their desire for improvement. They’ll host 0-1 Louisville on Saturday.

WAKE FOREST: Jim Grobe decided to go for two points and a win in overtime on Thursday night after the Deacons had two kicks blocked earlier in their opener at Northern Illinois. Cornelius Birgs was stopped on an inside handoff to the right as the Huskies avenged last year’s 38-35 loss to the Deacons in Winston-Salem. The Deacons, who host ECU on Saturday, couldn’t hold on to a 35-24 lead entering the fourth quarter.

NORTH CAROLINA: The Tar Heels play at Syracuse this Saturday and will need to cut down on their ACC record-tying nine turnovers in a 27-21 loss to Miami of Ohio at Kenan Stadium. Darian Durant lost three fumbles and threw three interceptions. Still, UNC had 447 yards of total offense. The Heels threw 48 times in the rain as the ground game got just 94 yards. UNC defensive end Eric Davis is out for the season with a torn knee ligament.

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02/23/2007 12:59:30 AM

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