The East Carolina defense must shift
gears as it heads for a Saturday night showdown at Southern Methodist
against a Mustangs offense that has become overwhelmingly pass-oriented
under former Hawaii coach June Jones.
Last week, ECU had to deal with Darius
Marshall, Conference USA's leading rusher, who is averaging a league
best 159.8 yards on the ground. This week, Jones and the Mustangs are
expected to air it out. SMU quarterback B.L. Mitchell is averaging 304.8
yards per game passing.
Mitchell's numbers are second in the
league to the prolific passing stats being generated by Houston's Case
Keenum, who is throwing for 424 yards per contest.
SMU is last in C-USA in rushing
attempts (101 in four games) and average rushing yardage per game
"SMU can score at any point in time and
from anywhere on the field," said Pirates coach Skip Holtz, whose team
C-USA East Division lead with a
21-17 win at Marshall last week.
"That's what makes them dangerous. You try and pressure the quarterback,
but then he throws a little screen out to the side. With the ability of
(Emmanuel) Sanders to catch the ball and make some things happen in the
open field, he can turn that little bubble screen into a 40-yard gain.
"It's going to be a challenge for our
defense this week. SMU is going to be totally different from anything
we've played so far this season. The difference is the space SMU,
Houston or UTEP puts you in. They make you defend the entire field,
sideline to sideline. They're going to score a lot of points. It's
almost like putting Navy into the middle of your schedule. When we
played Navy a couple years ago, it was the first game of the season so
we had all fall to prepare. This would be like throwing Navy in at the
middle of the year and you've got one week to prepare.
"There is very little carry over from
what we had last week. We're just going to have to see about nickel and
ECU must deal with the type of
transition it faced last season when Houston came to Greenville and
Keenum threw for 401 yards with three touchdowns in
a 41-24 Cougars victory.
The physical style of the Thundering
Herd put the Pirates in something of a recovery mode this week. ECU may
need to exchange the work boots it wore at Marshall for some track
"We're kind of battered and bruised
right now," Holtz said. "We're a little bit dinged up and nicked but
we're going to play a totally different transition this week. Going from
the East to the West (divisions in C-USA) is going from kind of being
black and blue to spreading the ball out and throwing it all over the
field. It's going to be a totally different thing."
ECU will see teams that are more
productive in their passing attacks than in their ground games in its
next four league games with Rice (home, Oct. 17), Memphis (away, Oct.
27) and Tulsa (away, Nov. 15) following this week's venture to SMU.
The Owls are 11th in C-USA in average
rushing yardage but are second only to Houston in pass attempts thus far
with 209 in five games.
Games with Virginia Tech (home, Nov. 5)
and UAB (home, Nov. 21) figure to be challenges for ECU's rushing
defense as the Hokies are second in the ACC in rushing at 203.2 yards
per game and the Blazers are first in C-USA at 228.8 yards per game.
Southern Miss (home, Nov. 28) currently
has one of the best balanced attacks the Pirates will see with 183.6
yards rushing (2nd, C-USA) and 236.2 yards passing (4th, C-USA).
UAB's 30-17 win over Southern Miss last
week marked the first time in 10 tries that the Blazers had beaten the
Golden Eagles, who were without running back Damion Fletcher and wide
receiver DeAndre Brown. The outcome dropped USM to 2-1 in league play
and helped put the Pirates in the division lead, a position Holtz hopes
his program is prepared to handle.
"We know we're wearing a little bit of
a bullseye on us with the defending conference champs everywhere we go,"
said the ECU coach. "We know we're going to get a lot of people's best
The approach of trying to go 1-0 each
week is one that has worked well in the Holtz era.
"We're just going to have to turn and
prepare one game at a time," Holtz said. "We feel very fortunate to come
out of last week with a win."
Houston wasn't so fortunate on the road
last week. After rising to No. 12 nationally, the Cougars were stunned
58-41 at the Sun Bowl by Texas-El Paso as Miners back Donald Buckram ran
for 262 yards and four touchdowns to overcome a 536-yard passing
performance by Keenum.
Ponies getting picks
SMU (2-2, 1-0 C-USA) is allowing 261.2
yards passing per game but the Mustangs have 12 interceptions in just
"They've already created 17 turnovers
in four games," Holtz noted. "They've got a lot of guys back. They've
got a couple of junior college players and a couple of transfer students
that are really helping them. I've really been impressed with their
personnel and the job they're doing and the way they're playing together
as a team right now."
The Ponies are coming off of a 39-14
loss to No. 9 Texas Christian in rainy conditions in Fort Worth last
"Defensively we did some things that
were good," Jones said. "Unfortunately, we didn't make plays offensively
or on special teams."
Jones performed a major personnel
overhaul after arriving in Dallas prior to the 2008 season.
"It was hard for them to go through
what they went through last year with everything but he (Jones) put his
pieces in place and he's been patient with it," Holtz said. "They're
getting better and better and it's showing on the film."
Purple ... Gold ... World Series
The Purple-Gold World Series continued
on Wednesday night with Corey Thompson getting five hits and three RBIs
to lead East Carolina to a 14-7 win over the Pirates.
"It was another offensive explosion,"
said ECU coach Billy Godwin, who has made sparing use of some of his top
arms in the three-game series which wraps up this evening with the
Pirates looking to avoid a sweep.
"We've got one team in survival mode
and one team where it's critical that they go out and have the killer
instinct," Godwin said.
The release of ECU's 2010 baseball
schedule is imminent. The Pirates will open at home with Virginia and
then will play a series in Greenville with South Carolina the following
weekend. The games with the Gamecocks should be exciting if the teams
provide the same degree of drama that characterized last year's NCAA
regional at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
Illinois, Western Carolina and West
Virginia will be coming in for the Keith LeClair event. The Pirates have
a western swing that will take them to Pepperdine and Cal State
Northridge. ECU won't play North Carolina during the regular season and
will have just one game with N.C. State in Greenville.
Godwin thought the date with the
Wolfpack was April 21.
The C-USA Tournament will be in