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View from the 'ville
Thursday, September 29, 2005

By Al Myatt

Holtz regime gets its shot at breaking the hex


You better watch out, you better not pout, Southern Miss is coming to town.

East Carolina's bid for an Eastern Division title in Conference USA and the corresponding berth in the league's inaugural championship game gets started on Saturday in seemingly the worst possible locale — Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville.

Incredibly, the Pirates are just 2-12 at home against the Golden Eagles, including losses in the last five visits by Coach Jeff Bower's program. You'd have to go back to 1994 when ECU prevailed 31-10 to recall the last time ECU successfully defended its home turf against USM.

Weirdly, the outcomes have been a little more favorable for the Pirates in Hattiesburg, MS, where the Golden Eagles' advantage is only 11-5. ECU's last win in the series came on the road in 2000 by a 14-9 margin and preceded the Pirates' last bowl triumph.

The Golden Eagles have a long history of emerging from that portal beneath the northeast side of Dowdy-Ficklen and — contrary to the pro ECU atmosphere — spoiling all the fun for the masses of Pirate fans seated above.

How do these guys keep coming to Greenville and repeating a scenario reminiscent of Bill Murray's recurring routine in Groundhog Day? One reason is because Southern Miss's football evolution is a lot like ECU's, only the Golden Eagles have been a little better against perhaps even more difficult circumstances.

The Golden Eagles have risen from small college power (national champs in 1958 and 1962 as Mississippi Southern) to major college player. Ole Miss and Mississippi State have become steadfast in their policy of not playing them, which exceeds the resistance N.C. State and UNC-Chapel Hill once displayed in scheduling the Pirates.

Southern Miss's reaction has been to adopt a motto of "Anybody, Anywhere" — in terms of scheduling. For instance, they went to Lincoln, NE, last season and shocked the Cornkuskers 21-17 in their season opener. They've played at Penn State and Florida State and on the home turf of any other formidable opponent that will line up against them. They routinely play Alabama in Birmingham — that's not Alabama-Birmingham — with Southeastern Conference officials to boot.

A trip to Greenville is understandably not intimidating in comparison.

A word of warning here to N.C. State fans, who have apparently besieged Coach Chuck Amato after last week's 31-24 home loss to the Tar Heels. The Wolfpack will entertain the Golden Eagles on Oct. 28. The Pack should avoid the mistake of looking ahead to Florida State the following week.

Going back a couple of decades, there are a couple of instances of documented officials blunders that hurt the Pirates' case against Southern Miss.

But, generally speaking, the Golden Eagles haven't been beating ECU in Greenville over the years with county fair trickery. For the most part they have been better up front on both sides of the ball and they've made fewer mistakes. It also didn't hurt that they had a pretty good quarterback by the name of Brett Favre during their run of success against the Pirates.

Coach Skip Holtz's arrival at ECU represents a break with the past and the opportunity to start a different tradition at home against Southern Miss. Here are a few things that would help that process.

— The Pirates and their fans need to realize that this is a BIG GAME. Treat it like it's N.C. State, UNC-Chapel Hill or Virginia Tech that's coming to ECU. Shake hands, pat the players on the back and give them some encouragement starting with the Pirate Walk from Clark-LeClair Stadium at 4 p.m. Fans need to be ready to be the 12th man for four quarters.

— ECU needs to win in the trenches. One of the images that emerges when considering Southern Miss' dominance in Greenville is running back Derrick Nix in 1999. ECU came into that game with a 5-0 record that included a win over Miami (FL), but the Golden Eagles ran Nix 42 times that day for 171 yards behind a basic zone blocking scheme. It wasn't rocket science, but it was effective in a 39-22 USM win.

— Take care of the football. Another image from 1999: The Pirates trailed just 25-22 and were moving the ball with under four minutes left when David Garrard was intercepted by Leo Barnes of Southern Miss. Barnes' 60-yard return for a touchdown turned down the volume at Dowdy-Ficklen and decided the game.

— No gifts. No fake punts from deep in ECU territory as in last year's 51-10 loss in Hattiesburg.

— Protect James Pinkney. The Golden Eagles had eight sacks in the 2004 debacle.

— Be mentally tough for as long as it takes. More retro images: ECU led 15-3 at home in 1999 at the end of the first quarter. The Pirates were up 10-0 in 2001 after 15 minutes, but the Golden Eagles went on to win, 28-21. USM tight end Buck Miciotto said after the 1999 game that the visitors were prepared not to panic if ECU got off to a fast start. The tortoise approach worked. The Pirates need to continue playing strong second halves as they have done at Wake Forest and West Virginia this season.

— Take advantage of circumstances. Southern Miss has played only two games because of hurricanes. Its game at Houston was postponed last week. The Pirates need to be disruptive of an offense that may be searching for consistency and rhythm.

— Realize it can be done. The Golden Eagles don't possess any Greenville-activated Kryptonite against ECU. Solid football has been their calling card, but they can be beaten — as one of Coach Pat Dye's teams proved with a 48-0 win in Greenville in 1976. (Coincidently, Dye will be recognized next weekend at ECU Hall of Fame inductions in conjunction with the Rice game.)

Prophetically, perhaps, Dye told writer Ron Cherubini last year what it will take for ECU to return to prominence.

“You’ve got to have a chancellor to support and an athletic director who can lead,” Dye said. “You’ve got to get and keep the right coaches. ... ECU will get there, but they have to make the right decisions. Florida State started just like East Carolina. They were a teacher’s college in the ‘50s and look what they have become.”

The leaders — Chancellor Steve Ballard, Athletic Director Terry Holland and Coach Holtz — appear to be in place. Perhaps it's only a matter of time before Dye's directives produce a football ascension for the Pirates — and some overdue wins at home over the Golden Eagles.

Good hearts

The ECU baseball team is planning a 100-inning intra-squad scrimmage beginning at 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 7, in support of victims of Hurricane Katrina. Admission is free but donations will be collected for the relief effort.

Or ... you can write a check to "C-USA Relief Fund" and mail it to ECU Baseball, 117 Scales Field House, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858.

"The players decided they wanted to help out," said ECU baseball coach Randy Mazey.

How long will 100 innings take, by the way? A typical 9-inning game lasts about three hours. Is there a Guinness Book record in the making here?

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 12:33:34 AM

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