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View from the 'ville
Thursday, October 9, 2008

By Al Myatt

ECU has Cavs' attention

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

It doesn't sound like Virginia coach Al Groh is underestimating East Carolina.

He's preparing his Cavaliers for the team and quarterback that rose to No. 14 in the national rankings with wins over Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Tulane – not the Pirates who faltered in the late stages of an overtime loss at N.C. State or the group that came home the following week and yielded 621 yards of total offense in a Conference USA defeat at the hands of Houston.

The Cavs (2-3), who host ECU (3-2) at noon on Saturday, have themselves been a snapshot of the unpredictability and inconsistency that have characterized college football this season. Just a week after stumbling to a 31-3 setback at Duke, Groh's charges recovered to stun Maryland, 31-0. The Terps were coming off of a 14-10 win at Clemson that had labeled them as solid favorites against the Cavs.

"We judge them on the Virginia Tech and West Virginia games," Groh said of the Pirates. "Clearly, those two games showed them at their best. That's what we have to be prepared for and that's certainly what we expect. To beat two Top 25 teams back-to-back like that is a tremendous achievement, particularly early in the season when some teams are still growing."

Groh indicated that ECU will present different challenges from the strengths the Cavs encountered in their matchup with Maryland.

"They've got a lot of speed," said the Virginia coach of ECU. "They're a very different style from the one we just played so it really is a starting-all-over-again week for us."

Groh has been impressed with Pirates quarterback Patrick Pinkney, who was nearly flawless in ECU's 2-0 start. Pinkney also delivered the winning touchdown pass in the come-from-behind victory at Tulane.

Pinkney hit Jamar Bryant for a 24-yard score with 1:41 left at the Louisiana Superdome for a 28-24 win over the Green Wave.

There was breaking news from ECU on Wednesday regarding Bryant and it wasn't good.

The junior wide receiver has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team policy according to an announcement from head football coach Skip Holtz.

Bryant, whose 18-game consecutive start streak will come to an end, is currently the Pirates' second-leading receiver this season with 19 catches for 216 yards and three touchdowns.

After a pair of four-catch efforts against Virginia Tech and West Virginia , he recorded back-to-back season-high five-reception totals against Tulane and N.C. State. Bryant scored on his only catch against Houston – a 12-yarder which extended his reception streak to 19 straight games.

"Jamar Bryant has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team policy," Holtz said. The fourth-year ECU coach did not address specifics, but added "there is an expectation of conduct associated with being a member of the Pirate football program."

As a sophomore in 2007, Bryant led ECU in receptions (48), receiving yards (704) and was co-leader in receiving touchdowns with six. His catch total was the sixth-highest in school single-season history, while his total yardage ranked tenth all-time.

He opened his Pirate career with 11 receptions for 108 yards in 10 games as a freshman in 2006.

Bryant's absence obviously takes away a valuable target, a factor Pinkney and the Pirates will have to overcome.

"Patrick is a very versatile player," said Groh, who coached the New York Jets before returning to his alma mater. "The first two weeks of the season, he completed 80 percent of his passes. The ball was hardly ever on the ground. He's an excellent runner with the ball. He's got the third most carries on their team.

"He's the guy you've got to keep under control or else he's going to control the game."

Youth movement at UVa

The Cavaliers have been a program in transition in terms of personnel. Freshmen and sophomores comprise 72 spots on the UVa roster. The Cavs have just 16 seniors. A total of 16 players have made their first start for Virginia this season. Twenty players have made their first college appearance.

Peter Lalich started the first two games at quarterback before he was dismissed from the team. Sophomore Marc Verica has taken over and improved significantly from the loss at Duke to the win over Maryland. Verica completed just 19 of 42 passes against the Blue Devils for 194 yards with four interceptions. He was 25 of 34 against the Terps for 226 yards with two touchdowns and no picks.

The Cavaliers have provided good pass protection with just six sacks in five games and senior tackle Eugene Monroe is a big reason why. Monroe started 11 games in 2007 and did not allow a sack. Monroe is currently rated the No. 1 prospect for the 2009 NFL draft by analyst Mel Kiper.

Senior running back Cedric Peerman returned for Virginia after missing the Duke game with an injury and ran 17 times against Maryland for a season high 110 yards with one touchdown. He also had a career high seven catches. Junior Kevin Ogletree had five catches for 100 yards with two scores. His 51-yard touchdown catch from Verica in the first quarter helped set the tone for the blowout.

"We've got a lot of new players," Groh said. "It's a growth process with them. They really stepped up and really showed progress."

Pirates recharged

Holtz spoke positively this week about the value of an open date for the Pirates to regroup following two straight losses.

"This open date was very needed," said the ECU skipper. "It has been a very emotional September, obviously, with all the highs and lows that we've been through as a program. I think it was great to give these players, coaches and everybody an opportunity to get away and get their feet up under them a little bit. From a mental standpoint as well as a physical standpoint, it gave everybody the opportunity to kind of recharge their batteries."

The ECU coaching staff also has had some time to do some assessments.

"It has also given us an opportunity, as a staff, to evaluate where we are from a scheme, play-calling and personnel standpoint," Holtz said. "We were really able to evaluate ourselves on offense, defense and the kicking game after five games. It was an opportunity to not only catch your breath, but to evaluate yourself with where you are. I think it has been an extremely productive open date and off-week."

Third down could be key

ECU is 2-0 against the Cavaliers. The first meeting in 1975 came the season after Sonny Randle left ECU to coach at his Charlottesville alma mater. The Pirates were highly-motivated as they piled up a school record 699 total yards in a 61-10 win.

ECU topped the Cavs 31-21 in Greenville in 2006.

Pirate third downs may be a key as the teams meet for a third time. UVa limited Maryland to four-for-13 on conversions in third-down situations last week.

Improvement on ECU's one-for-13 third-down performance against Houston has no doubt been a priority during its bye week.

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10/09/2008 03:36:58 AM


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