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CHRONICLING ECU & C-USA SPORTS
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View from the 'ville
Thursday, October 8, 2009

By Al Myatt

SMU presents different challenge

By Al Myatt
©2009 Bonesville.net
All rights reserved.

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 (75.2).

"SMU can score at any point in time and from anywhere on the field," said Pirates coach Skip Holtz, whose team took the 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 dime coverage."

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 shoes.

"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).

C-USA upsets

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 shot."

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 four games.

"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 week.

"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 Houston.

E-mail Al Myatt

Al Myatt Archives

10/08/2009 03:01 AM
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