East Carolina coach Skip Holtz is one of a
few college football coaches who can count on a proven bullpen when
formulating his offensive game plan.
Patrick Pinkney came on in relief of
starting quarterback Rob Kass last week in the Pirates' 56-40 Conference
USA win at Memphis and went 8 for 16, passing for 105 yards with two
touchdowns and no interceptions.
Pinkney also ran eight times for 94
yards with a 45-yard scoring keeper in ECU's fifth consecutive C-USA
victory. Kass will likely start again on Saturday at Marshall but
Pinkney will be waiting in the wings to bring his particular skills to
the Pirates' table.
"They're playing two quarterbacks,"
said Thundering Herd coach Mark Snyder. "I think both of those guys are
playing within themselves and we're going to face another great running
back here in (Chris) Johnson. We've just got to know who's in the game
and be prepared for them.
"They're very versatile. They're
spreading the ball around to everybody. The quarterbacks are getting the
ball into people's hands. Coach Holtz is doing things that those kids
Johnson stepped up in huge fashion last
week with 301 yards rushing and four touchdowns, rewriting the school
record book with 408 all-purpose yards and his 38th career touchdown.
"He's really starting to grow up and
turn it on," Snyder said of Johnson.
ECU needs effective quarterbacking to
keep defenses from keying on the fleet and elusive senior running back.
The Pirates have done that through the tag team of Kass and Pinkney this
season. Both have been brilliant at times although neither has delivered
Pinkney has been the biggest surprise
of ECU's quarterback committee. A Pirate legacy, the son of former ECU
standout defensive back Reggie Pinkney, the Fayetteville Pine Forest
product might not have gotten on the field if Kass hadn't been arrested
for DWI prior to the season opener at Virginia Tech.
But Kass' poor judgment in the
preseason has been a long term blessing for the Pirates in terms of
offensive depth and diversity. Pinkney, who went into the season as the
No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, got his chance in Blacksburg when
Brett Clay started and struggled.
Pinkney directs an offensive package
that contrasts the pocket passing Kass because of Pinkney's scrambling
ability. Kass can run, too, but his style is more like that of a
barreling tight end. Although Pinkney is labeled as the runner of the
pair, he also can wing it, as his 406 yards and three touchdowns in a
34-31 win over North Carolina attest.
Kass was Captain Clutch at Texas-El
Paso with a game-tying 34-yard touchdown pass as time expired and the
winning touchdown drive capped by his keeper.
Generally, Holtz has been able to find
someone with a hot hand as the bowl-eligible Pirates venture into
Charleston, W V, with control of their fate in the Conference USA East
Division title race.
Kass will be cast in the leadoff role
"I think we'll keep doing that same
thing," Pinkney said after practice on Wednesday. "I think Kass is going
to start out and they're going to tell me what series I'm going in."
Pinkney said he's comfortable with that
"If I start or just come out the second
or third series I've just got to be ready to play and just lead the
team," Pinkney said.
Pinkney emerged as a game-changing
offensive threat in the victory over North Carolina but at times has
struggled to find anything approaching that degree of effectiveness.
Kass has had his shining moments along with some pitfalls as well.
"Being our first year really playing at
this level, you're going to have ups and downs the first year at the
quarterback position," Pinkney said. "But we're coming along very
strong. We work together. We're just going to finish strong and lead our
ECU's dual quarterback system has
helped propel the Pirates into contention for the C-USA crown despite a
28-21 loss to Southern Miss on Sept. 15 in ECU's league opener. The
Golden Eagles were the preseason favorites in the C-USA race but USM's
nationally-televised losses to Rice and Central Florida have helped
elevate the Pirates to the top of the division standings.
Pinkney said he didn't lose confidence
that the Pirates could get back into the league championship picture
despite failing to hold a lead against Southern Miss.
"That's why we worked hard all summer
to reach the conference championship," Pinkney said. "Everybody's
believing it and we're playing well on both sides of the ball. That's
what it takes."
Holtz and the Pirates appear to have
adjusted well to their unplanned two quarterback system. ECU has
averaged 48.5 points in its last two games.
"We've kind of gone back and forth,
obviously," said the Pirates coach. "Our hand was forced a little bit
early where we had to turn and go with Patrick and Brett Clay with the
suspension of Rob early in the season.
"Patrick went in and really did a nice
job. He kind of earned the opportunity to become the starter. When Rob
came back about three or four weeks later, he got in the game and did a
really nice job with it.
"We feel like we have two quarterbacks
that both have some strengths. Neither one had an awful lot of
experience coming into this season. They both have some weaknesses but
they both have some strengths. They're different quarterbacks and we've
got to be able to utilize them both."
Situations impact who's under center.
"We got into a game last week where we
were going to turn and run the ball an awful lot," Holtz said.
"Especially at halftime, when we had the lead and we felt like we needed
to run the ball to eat some time off the clock. We put Patrick in in the
second half and he did a really nice job.
"We ended up scoring on our first four
opportunities in the second half."
That performance obviously kept Pinkney
in the game.
"When you're having that kind of
success on offense, it's just kind of hard to turn and make your
quarterback change," Holtz said. "There's been some games where Patrick
is going to play the majority of the game. Rob's going to play a little
bit of a role and have, say, 20 plays. And, same thing, there have been
games so far where Rob has played the majority of the game and Patrick
has played the limited role and only had about 15 or 20 plays."
Holtz will continue to look for the
quarterback situation that will give the Pirates their best opportunity
to lock down their first conference championship since 1976.
"They're both gonna play," he said.
"One of the things I think that makes it work is that they're both such
great young men. They're both character guys. They care about this team
and they're kind of putting their individual goals on the sideline."