One might hope that the Memphis
football team wasn't too close to the physical embodiment of the Tigers'
mascot, TOM II, who passed away at the age of 17 on Wednesday morning.
Memphis' offensive personnel are
talented enough in their own right. East Carolina doesn't need the extra
challenge of facing a team with the additional motivation of winning one
in memory of old TOM, which stands for Tigers of Memphis.
The Pirates can use all the help they
can get as they try to snap a three-game losing streak and keep
realistic hopes alive in the Conference USA East Division race. The need
for assistance will likely mean more playing time for ECU junior
quarterback Rob Kass when the Pirates can wrest possession away from a
potent Tigers offense.
ECU's defense, which has yielded 75
points in its last two games, will face a two-dimensional Memphis
attack. Junior back Curtis Steele averages 94.0 yards per game rushing
while quarterback Arkelon Hall is passing for 258 yards per game.
The sheer physical stature of Memphis'
receiving corps is a significant source of concern for Pirates coach
"They have the tallest receiving unit
in the country, and probably one of the most productive," Holtz said.
"When you look at Carlos Singleton, who is 6-foot-8, and what he's been
doing there, he's been great. Going against him, I look at what this
receiving corps did to us a year ago, and they threw for over 400 yards
of offense and scored 40 points on us.
"It's hard to believe this, but I think
they're a better receiving corps than they were a year ago."
ECU outscored the Tigers 56-40 last
season in Memphis.
Coach Tommy West said that mistakes
have kept the Tigers from reaching their offensive potential in 2008.
"There are about four or five plays
each week that are keeping us from being a really good offensive team,"
West said. "Carlos (Singleton) had a drop, Duke (Calhoun) had a drop
that was a pick, and we're having four or five plays, and that's not
much that's keeping us from being one of the best offenses in the
"That's keeping us from being a top 10
team, and I'm not talking about in the league, I'm talking about
The Pirates know something about
national rankings, having crested at No. 14 after a 3-0 start. West,
along with the rest of the college football world, is familiar with
ECU's rise and fall. The Tigers coach said teams can't rest on their
laurels, especially in C-USA.
"East Carolina has certainly started
off very hot," West said. "In our league I think every week is a
measuring stick. In our league, in particular in our division, you have
to bring it every week.
"Anybody is capable of beating anyone.
You have to be real good to be at the top of our league."
Although Holtz may use Kass more this
week, West is certainly aware of Patrick Pinkney's abilities when he is
playing at his best. Pinkney's mobility is an added dimension that can
The driving force for ECU last season
against the Tigers was Chris Johnson, who ran for 301 yards and four
touchdowns. Johnson, of course, is now performing for the Tennessee
Titans as a productive first-round draft pick.
Memphis is coming off a 35-28 loss to
Louisville, whose quarterback, Hunter Cantwell, is basically a pocket
"We're back into the running
quarterbacks, " West said. "(Pinkney) has played really well. A year ago
they were phenomenal at protecting the ball and getting turnovers. They
were plus 17 in turnover ratio at the end of the year last year. They
led our league. We were second at plus 10 and they almost doubled us.
"They do a really nice job of not
turning it over and letting you turn it over, and then playing for the
breaks. Then they cash in when they get their break."
This year's turnover numbers are more
relevant and lack the impact of those generated by the respective teams
last season. The Pirates are just a plus one in overall turnover margin
this season while the Tigers are a minus one.
That doesn't diminish West's perception
"Their quarterback is the guy that
makes them go," West said. "He and Dwayne Harris, their wide out; they
move him around so they can get him the ball. The quarterback has played
extremely well. He can throw and run. This is a guy that can run with
it. We've certainly seen our share of running quarterbacks."
West's appraisal certainly applies to
Pinkney on his good days, but as Pinkney has gone so have the Pirates
for better and worse.
Holtz knows it may be time to give Kass
a shot. The two quarterback system seemed to work well last season as
ECU went 8-5 with a win in the Hawaii Bowl. It gives opposing defenses
more to prepare for and gives the ECU coaches a second option if the
starter struggles on game day.
"I'm not really set right now with who
I'm going to start, but Rob [Kass] will definitely play," Holtz said at
the outset of the week. "The rotation and what we're going to do will be
mostly determined during the week of practice.
"Patrick is a captain and an
upperclassman that has really played well. I really want to be loyal to
Patrick and what he has done for this program. At the same, as I said,
if we're turning the ball over and not following the plan, we've got to
turn and look at what our other options are.
"Right now it's very difficult to look
Rob in the eye, as much as he has played, as much experience (as) he has
and the way he has played in his opportunities, and tell him that he
doesn't deserve a shot. I just don't know at this point what the
rotation is going to be, but both quarterbacks will definitely play."