East Carolina faces some obstacles as
well as some significant potential rewards Saturday when it plays its
homecoming game against Marshall.
First of all, it's a short week for
ECU, which has the momentum of
a 13-10 overtime win at Central
Florida on Sunday. The Pirates overcame a 10-0 Golden Knights lead with
under two minutes remaining in regulation to maintain their role as a
major player in the
Conference USA East Division race.
In contrast, the Thundering Herd has
had plenty of time to prepare for the contest in Greenville since a
37-23 win on Oct. 28 over Houston, a team that
rolled past the Pirates 41-24 on
"They're playing really well with an
awful lot of confidence right now as a football team," said ECU coach
Skip Holtz. "That win from the Houston game gives them an 11-day break
coming in to play us and it's almost like an open date. I'm sure they'll
be well-rested and excited to come in here and play."
ECU and Marshall are
are tied atop the division.
"This is a really big game when you
talk about conference implications and the division lead, as both of us
are 3-1 at this point," Holtz said. "The winner of this game is going to
come out the clear-cut favorite, so there are many conference
implications within this game."
The main implication is that the
Pirates-Herd winner could afford to lose one if its three remaining
league games and still be guaranteed a berth in the C-USA championship
game on Dec. 6 by virtue of its win in the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Marshall would appear to have the
tougher schedule to close out the season as the Herd will host Central
Florida on Nov. 15, travel to high-scoring Rice the following Saturday
and finish up at home on Nov. 29 against Tulsa, which sustained its
first loss of the season on Saturday at Arkansas.
The Pirates have road games at Southern
Miss and UAB before concluding the regular season at home against
That potential tiebreaking edge is a
significant factor for ECU which has stumbled
at Rice in 2006 and
at Marshall in 2007 en route to
a possible C-USA East Division title. The Herd was 1-8 overall and 1-4
in the league when it handed the Pirates a stunning 26-7 loss in
"I want them to remember it," Holtz
said. "After the opening kickoff and the first plays on offense and
defense, I don't think last year's game is going to be much of a factor.
Do I want them to remember last year's game so we can go out and put the
preparation in? Yes, I do.
"We went up there and had an
opportunity to hold first-place in the division and we couldn't do it.
Now we're sitting in the same situation this year, only the game is a
little bit earlier in the season. But we're sitting in the same
situation where we're both coming in with a 3-1 record and the winner is
going to walk out of here in first place in the East Division.
"I don't want to use that as the sole
motivation, for revenge. But at the same time, I want them to understand
the importance of what's on the line and the preparation that it's going
to take to get ready for this football game."
ECU's struggling passing attack and
unsettled quarterback situation will encounter a Marshall defense that
is directed by an old foe. Former Cincinnati coach Rick Minter is now
the defensive coordinator for the Herd. Holtz is familiar with Minter.
"Rick Minter, their defensive
coordinator, and I have coached together on two different occasions, at
Notre Dame and South Carolina," said the Pirates coach. "I know what
Rick does and how he thinks. He's got a great football mind and I know
he's very aggressive as a defensive coordinator. He's going to give you
a lot of different looks that you have to line-up and play with."
Marshall is allowing 26.2 points per
game, second in C-USA to ECU, which is yielding an average of 21.9. The
Pirates' win at UCF marked the first time since a 14-9 victory at
Southern Miss on Nov. 24, 2000, that ECU has won a game when scoring
less than 20 points, a span of 92 games.
ECU quarterbacks Rob Kass and Patrick
Pinkney combined to go 13 for 33 for 149 yards with no touchdowns and
one interception at UCF. The Knights recorded six sacks. Pinkney
ultimately directed the Pirates more effectively in the second half as
the Pirates became the first C-USA team to win at Bright House Networks
The silver lining offensively was that
Norman Whitley stepped up to run for 135 yards and a touchdown on 28
"As disappointed as I was with the way
we pass protected, I was that excited about our run blocking," Holtz
said. "That was the number one rushing defense in our league and to see
Norman Whitley go through some of those holes and get to the free safety
untouched spoke volumes to the job the offensive line did. I thought
they did an excellent job. Our problems on Sunday were not running the
Whitley played for former ECU coach
Ed Emory at Richmond County High
"When you look at what Norman Whitley
did, he's kind of small and hides behind that line," Holtz said. "He
split through the line, went north and south, ran hard, ran physical and
protected the ball. I was starting to gain more and more confidence in
him as the game went on."
Playing meaningful games in November is
a characteristic of successful programs. The Pirates have to contend
with a resurgent Herd program that is getting 189.4 yards per game
passing from Mark Cann and 77.2 yards a game rushing from Darius
Visiting coach Mark Snyder likes the
situation his team is in as it comes to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for a 3:30
"Obviously East Carolina and us control
our own destiny," Snyder said. "As you look at us statistically, its
frightening. We're very similar teams and we try to build the programs
in very similar fashions.
"I don't think ECU had as far to go as
we did, but we're there now and it should be very exciting. That's what
it's all about. November is for contenders. September is for