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View from the 'ville
Thursday, October 20, 2005

By Al Myatt

Holtz: Back-to-back wins no reason for elation

©2005 Bonesville.net

The football outlook at East Carolina certainly has improved in the 11 months since the Pirates last played Memphis.

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."

Bad matchups

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 similar problem.

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 nation.

"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 better.”

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 Daly, Jr."

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 cover.

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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02/23/2007 12:33:40 AM
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