GREENVILLE Maybe Oregon State set the
tone for the college football weekend with its 27-21 mega-upset of
Southern Cal on Thursday night. The Beavers showed the way for underdogs
to have their day on Saturday as ranked teams were going down like tree
limbs in a hurricane.
had been called the most talented team ever in college football by no
less an authority than The Sporting News. They were supposed to be a
special team, not just this season but for the ages. When a power held
in that regard gets knocked off on national television, is there a sense
of enablement for every team across the nation that can identify with a
program like Oregon State?
Is seeing believing?
Well, Ole Miss ruined No. 4 Florida's
day. Wisconsin, ranked No. 9, bit the dust at Michigan's Big House. Navy
sank No. 16 Wake Forest. Maryland went into Death Valley and lived to
tell about its conquest of No. 20 Clemson. The Bulldogs of No. 3 Georgia
got penned between their own hedges by Alabama.
There was talk about this being a
special team at East Carolina this season but the No. 23 Pirates were
not spared from the swath of stunners as the Houston Cougars piled up
621 yards of total offense in outscoring ECU, 41-24. The Cougars came
into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with less than ordinary credentials at 1-3,
but they quickly sprang to life.
"You watch them on film and they have
not been near as efficient as they were today," said ECU coach Skip
Holtz. "I think they were extremely motivated coming in here. They
played with their backs against the wall and I thought they played
The ink is barely dry on a
newly-approved contract that will guarantee Holtz over $4 million
through 2013 with incentives that could boost his earnings to over $9
million for the term of the package.
The numbers that mattered on Saturday
were ECU's conversion rate on third down, which was approaching the
poverty level in terms of offensive consistency. ECU was just 1-for-13
on third down.
"The difference was third down and
getting our defense off the field," said Cougars coach Kevin Sumlin.
Holtz cited a number of factors that
tend to level the playing field for ranked teams and programs they are
supposed to beat.
"I think it shows you that there's
great parity in college football," Holtz said. "I think if you're not
playing at an emotional peak, which is extremely difficult to do 12
weeks in a row, I think about anybody can beat anybody.
"I said at the beginning of the year
what we saw with App State and Michigan was not the stars aligned. The
85-scholarship reduction, the shortened clock, the emotion that it takes
to play week in and week out there's a lot of good football teams out
there. How does a 1-2 football team beat the No. 1 team in the country
that had pretty much established their dominance?
"After the Ohio State game, everybody
said, 'Well, they're in a class by themselves and then there's everybody
Houston took it to ECU early, never
trailing after quarterback Case Keenum threw to Patrick Edwards for a
24-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 9:52 left in the first quarter.
Keenum completed 36 of 44 passes for 399 yards with three touchdowns and
Edwards caught 11 passes for 146 yards
and Bryce Beall ran 22 times for a net of 132 yards with two TDs.
"I don't think anybody in this league
intimidates other teams in this league, meaning that everybody feels
like they can line up and play with anybody," Holtz said. "We're going
to get everybody's best shot at this point. We're ranked and we beat two
BCS teams. You don't think those are being said in the meetings during
"You hear, 'You better get ready. They
already beat Virginia Tech. They already beat West Virginia. They're
ranked 23rd. You better get ready. They're going to hit you in the
mouth,' you know. I'm sure a lot of that's used. I'd use it against us.
I used it against West Virginia and Virginia Tech. That's how you get
your players up to go win.
"I've said this before 'The fear of
failure is an unbelievable motivator.' Sometimes getting you to play
with your back up against the wall and turning and straining and
fighting and kind of going that extra inch (is the deciding factor)."
When ECU beat then-No. 8 West Virginia,
24-3, its status changed from a hunter to the hunted. That game showed
how good the Pirates can be. There were times against Houston when ECU
bore no resemblance to itself 21 days ago like when Cougar wide
receiver Kierrie Johnson was so wide open for an 84-yard touchdown pass
from Keenum in the fourth quarter he looked like he might have been
The Pirates turned to back-up
quarterback Rob Kass, who saw his first significant action of the
season, in search of a spark. Kass had one solid drive to get ECU within
21-17 but his fourth quarter interception led to a score that put the
Cougars in command at 38-17.
"This wasn't Rob's fault and it wasn't
Patrick's fault," Holtz said.
The Pirates coach called the
disappointing outcome "a team effort."
ECU now has an open date two weeks to
get ready for an Oct. 11 game at Virginia. Some time off may be the
answer for a team whose performance level has diminished in recent
"We need a week off mentally and
physically," Holtz said. "Our first four games were emotional and
physical but this one was a little more strategic and played in space.
We need to take a hard look at where we are right now, but I also think
the players need to get away from football a little bit."