College Sports in the Carolinas
from the 'ville
October 20, 2005
By Al Myatt
Holtz: Back-to-back wins no
reason for elation
The football outlook at East Carolina
certainly has improved in the 11 months since the Pirates last played
Unless you've been guilty of selective amnesia
designed to erase any recall of the John Thompson coaching era at ECU, you
will remember Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams from last year's 38-35
Tigers win in Greenville.
Williams ran for 225 yards and four touchdowns
to foil ECU's emotional bid to give Thompson a sendoff victory over a
program that he grew up near in Arkansas and one that he once coached as
defensive coordinator in 1999.
Thompson was relieved of his duties earlier
last season during the week leading up to the Memphis game.
Things have certainly taken an upward turn
with the arrival of Skip Holtz and staff. In six games, Holtz has equaled
the win total of the previous two seasons.
Positive emotions are building again for the
Pirate program which made bowl trips on a regular basis in the 1990s and in
the first two years of this millennium. ECU heads for the Liberty Bowl, the
stadium — not the postseason reward for the champion of Conference USA — to
return the Tigers' visit of last Nov. 20. The good news is that ECU is still
among the contenders to be back in Memphis on Dec. 31 as league champion.
The Pirates are 2-1 in conference play after
last week's 24-17 win at Southern Methodist and are
tied for first in the East Division.
The exhilaration of winning on consecutive
weeks, an accomplishment that had eluded ECU for 43 games dating back to the
2001 season, is actually causing Holtz some concern.
"We've really got to put our blinders on right
now and stay focused," he said in response to a question about bowl
possibilities for the Pirates. "We're not good enough yet to start thinking
long term. There are a lot of teams in this league when you look at the
Southern Misses, the Memphises, the UABs that have been good for a long
time. We don't have that luxury."
Holtz's Pirates are a work in progress.
"We're in the building stage," he said. "We're
constantly teaching every day. This sounds crazy but right now we're
teaching our players how to handle winning and it's hard to teach how to
handle winning when you don't win. All of a sudden we win two games in a row
for the first time since 2001."
The Pirates definitely lost that winning
feeling over the years that followed.
"There was one of the players who is a junior
on this team who made a comment to me, he said, 'Coach, this is the most
games I've won in my career,' " Holtz said. "We're excited with where we are
right now. We really just have to keep the blinders on and keep focused on
what we've got to get done this week."
One of the biggest adjustments the Pirates had
to make at halftime in Dallas was getting the players out of a celebratory
mood with ECU on top 17-7 at the break. It had been almost two years since
ECU had a win on the road.
"It's not easy to do, especially with the
distance you're traveling," Holtz said. "It's a three-hour plane ride all
the way out to Dallas. It's almost like you're herding cattle — getting on
buses, off buses, getting on planes, off airplanes. It was a long trip but
I'm really proud of the way our players went out there and competed."
But there was a little too much locker room
euphoria with work still to be done for Holtz's liking.
"We were up 17-7 at the half," he said. "I
don't think we handled success very well. I thought there was way too much
celebration going on in the locker room at halftime. We tried to zero them
back in to what we had to do. We went out there in the third quarter and I
thought SMU did a really nice job of putting some drives together and tied
the game up at 17 all. Then we really had to re-focus and came back and did
what they had to do at the end to get the win.
"It's great to win on the road, especially in
this conference. It's so competitive. The difference between winning and
losing each and every week is ... a play away from a win or a loss. So we
feel very fortunate that we had the opportunity to go to SMU and come out
with a victory."
Memphis got to celebrate at Dowdy-Ficklen
Stadium last year when Stephen Gostkowski kicked a decisive 35-yard field
goal with six seconds remaining.
Perhaps the Pirates can celebrate at the end
of the game — not at halftime — this Saturday.
Tigers find fourth string QB
Although Maurice Avery's numbers weren't as
gaudy as Williams' in Memphis' win in Greenville in 2004 — five catches for
84 yards — he will likely play a crucial role in the matchup with ECU on
Saturday as the Tigers' fourth starter at quarterback this season.
Injuries and ineffective play caused Memphis
to move Avery under center. He responded with 105 yards rushing and a
touchdown in a 35-20 win over Houston. He also completed 7 of 12 passes for
112 yards and two TDs, helping to take some defensive focus off of Williams.
"They did a nice thing, kind of getting
inventive and creative with their quarterback situation," Holtz said.
"Moving a guy like Avery with his athleticism back there ... I thought was
brilliant. I thought it was really smart. It's meant an awful lot to their
football team. They've really created some headaches when you start trying
to defend it. You not only have to stop Williams back there but you have to
stop Avery, who is a single wing type quarterback who can run it as well."
While Holtz and staff ponder how to slow down
a Memphis offense that is second nationally in rushing yards per game
(273.3) with an ECU defense that is 106th nationally out of 117 Division I-A
programs against the run (allowing 206.3 yards/game), the Tigers face a
The passing game has been the most productive
aspect of ECU's offense at 252.5 yards per game (33rd in the nation) while
Memphis is allowing 277.2 yards per game through the air, 107th in the
"I would much rather be facing a team that
throws it on every down right now, with the success that we've had against
passing teams than the rushing teams," Holtz said.
Ticket office busy
ECU's taste of success has spurred ticket
sales for the Homecoming game on Oct. 29 with Central Florida, a game that
could possibly become crucial in ECU's division title hopes. One source said
that before rain slowed ticket sales for the Rice game on Oct. 8, it was on
pace to outsell the earlier home games with Duke and Southern Miss.
Central Florida will get an extra day to
prepare for ECU after
moving its game with Tulane to Friday night
due to the approach of Hurricane Wilma.
Williams, Pinkney changed their minds
John Thompson recruited Williams, who now has
5,145 career rushing yards, to Arkansas and Williams, who has a shot of
breaking the record of 6,397 set by Ron Dayne of Wisconsin in 1999, actually
committed to the Razorbacks.
He wasn't comfortable with his decision and
when Arkansas tried to pressure him into signing, he backed off. Tigers
coach Tommy West promised him a chance to play early and rewrite the Memphis
record book, which Williams has done.
ECU quarterback James Pinkney, who Holtz has
compared to a sponge for the way in which he absorbs coaching, also opted
out of ride to a BCS school. Pinkney initially committed to Iowa State
before backtracking and buying into the offensive philosophy and warmer
climate offered by former Pirate coach Steve Logan.
Marshall picks Pirates
And on the subject of recruiting, ECU has its
second known football commitment for the February, 2006 signing class and,
coincidently, both are from Jacksonville. Offensive lineman D.J. Scott is in
the Jacksonville, FL, area and running back/cornerback Dekota Marshall of
Southwest Onslow hails from the Jacksonville, NC, area.
Marshall cast his lot with the Pirates earlier
this week. Southwest Onslow has won two straight state 2-A titles, defeating
Burlington Cummings 20-14 in 2003 and Shelby 49-21 last season.
ECU secondary coach Rick Smith was involved in
influencing Marshall to choose ECU. One source said the 6-foot-1,
180-pounder was at the top of ECU's recruiting board. Marshall runs a
4.4-second time for 40 yards, according to Stallions coach Phil Padgett, and
can bench press more than 330 pounds.
Padgett credits Marshall's work ethic and
Marshall credits Padgett for keeping Southwest from getting cocky.
“Coach Padgett puts us in check during
practice,” Marshall said. “He lets us know each and everyday that we can’t
get big heads. He says we are good athletes, but we could always get
UNC has a commitment from Southwest
quarterback/corner Kendric Burney.
Pirate Club golf
The Harnett-Johnston chapter of the Pirate
Club sponsored the Pat Draughon Memorial Golf Tournament at Pine Hills South
in Erwin, NC, on Wednesday and chapter president Perry Hudson reported that
about $3,000 was raised.
The team of Randy Bain, James Brewington and
Faye Brewington took first by shooting a 13-under par 58 in the Captian's
Choice format, winning on a scorecard playoff.
Hudson's team included Pirate Club official
Scott Weatherby, who Hudson said, "can flat hit the golf ball. He's John
Another payoff at hand
Terms of settling the contract of deposed ECU
baseball coach Randy Mazey have not been settled, according to a reliable
source, but that likely will be another expense for the athletic budget to
Contrary to what some have speculated, former
coaches still under contract are not being paid out of a discretionary fund
administered by Chancellor Steve Ballard.
Former football coach Steve Logan was offered
no incentive to accept employment for less than $200,000 annually under the
terms of his exit contract, which runs to Jan.1, 2006. Thompson and former
basketball coach Bill Herrion had differently-structured settlements, which
will ease the financial strain on ECU, and both have returned to coaching —
Thompson as defensive coordinator at South Carolina and Herrion as head
coach at New Hampshire in his native New England.
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