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View from the 'ville
Thursday, October 19, 2006

By Al Myatt

Flat performance begets dreary result

Youth and injuries complicated ECU's challenge in its stinging loss to an exceptional Tulsa team.

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The Tulsa game was a disappointing and mystifying performance for an East Carolina team that had done so many things well in defeating Virginia a week earlier.

With an extra week to prepare for the Cavaliers, ECU had ratcheted up its running game for a season best 208 yards. Brandon Fractious had stepped in for injured Chris Johnson and run for 102 yards, the most by a Pirates back this season. Even with star receiver Aundrae Allison out of commission, the ECU passing game had managed 224 yards against the Cavs.

The 31-21 win over Virginia was supposed to be a momentum builder for East Carolina going into the thick of the Conference USA schedule.

Time and the opportunity to atone this week against Southern Methodist will erase the disappointment of the Tulsa setback. The intent here is to eliminate some of the mystery involved in ECU's showing in the 31-10 loss to the Hurricane by examining factors that contributed to the Pirates' most one-sided loss of the season.

Following the Tulsa game, Pirates coach Skip Holtz admitted he had been concerned about the potential for a flat performance following the triumph over the Cavaliers.

"I talked to the staff on Monday (Oct. 9) about my only concern is an emotional letdown because we played five emotional weeks," Holtz said. "The first game of the year is always the first game of the year. That's always going to be emotional. The second game (UAB), we get into conference play.

"The third game (Memphis), you get to come home. Then you've got two BCS conference schools (West Virginia and Virginia). That's four and five and you've gone five (games) in a row where you've had to be on top of your game, where you've had to be at a real emotional peak.

"I was worried about an emotional letdown. I can't tell you that that's what this one was. I can't tell you that. It wasn't the same fire but I thought defensively we started the game pretty salty. We couldn't get that rhythm going on offense. There was always a breakdown here or there.

"I don't know if there was an emotional letdown but that was definitely a concern coming into it all. I thought they played hard. I don't think they went out and laid down. I thought they played hard. We just made a lot of mistakes."

One characteristic of rebuilding programs can be inconsistency. ECU didn't look like the team that had battled West Virginia to a virtual standstill into the fourth quarter or the Pirates that had taken control of the Virginia game by halftime.

"When you play five weeks of emotional football, it's hard to get up and play your best every single week, regardless of who's coming into town," Holtz said. "Was there something to play for? Certainly."

In ECU's previous three home games, the crowd was more of a factor than in the Tulsa game. Students were on fall break and that affected the size and the impact of the Pirates' fan support.

"It was a fantastic crowd considering the students were on break," said ECU athletic director Terry Holland.

The crowd of 34,011 was the smallest of the season and it was easily the least enthusiastic.

"We love the fans but it's on us to get ready," said ECU linebacker Pierre Bell.

"The crowd wasn't as big as it has been," Holtz said. "But I was real impressed with the student body that was still there."

"It was a weird game," said Tulsa coach Steve Kragthorpe. "There wasn't a lot of rhythm or flow to it. ... We played good early and took the crowd out of the game a little. ... We just go about our business whether it's on the road or at home, whether it's an afternoon game, night game or morning game.

"It's like the U.S. Postal Service. We gotta deliver."

ECU quarterback James Pinkney said the 3 p.m. kickoff may have affected the Pirates. It was ECU's earliest start this season.

"That wasn't us out there today," Pinkney said. "It hurts knowing we didn't come to play the conference champs. ... We didn't get ourselves ready in time to play this game. We've been playing at 6 (p.m.). Playing at 3 (p.m.), I just think some people weren't ready mentally and physically to go out there and play and that showed."

The Pirates' Homecoming matchup with SMU, incidentally, also kicks off at 3 p.m.

Another factor that shouldn't be overlooked in last Saturday's outcome: Tulsa is good. People may just be starting to realize that with the Golden Hurricane slotted No. 25 in the first BCS rankings. ECU was a slight favorite over Tulsa, according to the Las Vegas lines, but the Golden Hurricane dominated the Pirates to a greater extent than No. 5 West Virginia.

"Coach Kragthorpe has done a very nice job in building that program," Holtz said. "They're the best in our conference right now. That's pretty much proven until somebody knocks them off the top.

"That's going to be difficult for somebody to do with the running game that they have and the way Paul Smith (Tulsa quarterback) — the poise that he shows in the pocket and the decisions that he makes."

Holtz said the Golden Hurricane was able to exploit ECU's defensive inexperience.

"Some times when the young guys make mistakes, the (opposing) offense isn't good enough to expose them," Holtz said. "Tulsa was."

ECU certainly wasn't at full strength in terms of personnel. Cornerback Travis Williams was out due to a suspension for violation of team policy. He returned to practice this week. Star receiver Aundrae Allison also watched with a high ankle sprain but is expected to be available against SMU. The bad news is that elite receivers Bobby Good and Jamar Bryant are out due to injuries.

Injuries are part of the game but unfortunately for the Pirates, they have been a big part in recent weeks.

"I'd love to have Jamar Bryant," Holtz said. "I'd love to have (running back) Dominique Lindsay. We can go through this whole thing. There are a lot of guys I'd love to have out there. I'd love to have (defensive lineman) Shauntae Hunt healthy. It's frustrating now because we were young coming in and you lose some of those key players and it puts even more youth on the field.

"We knew when we played these young players there would be growing pains. I said at the beginning of the season that we are more talented than in years past but I don't know that we're a better football team. We weren't very consistent (against Tulsa)."

Bell had no excuses.

"We just didn't play our game," Bell said. "We just didn't stick to the game plan. We had too many mistakes, too many turnovers. Defensively, we just had too many letdowns. It just wasn't our day.

" ... This isn't a measuring stick. We just didn't play Pirate-type football. When you don't play Pirate-type football, you can get beat by anybody."

Hopefully, the Pirates can address the factors that contributed to the poor showing against Tulane.

"We've got to bounce back," Pinkney said.

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02/23/2007 12:30:48 AM


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