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CHRONICLING ECU & C-USA SPORTS
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View from the 'ville
Thursday, November 12, 2009

By Al Myatt

Clouds linger over Pirates

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

East Carolina coach Skip Holtz has been faced with some adjustments as the Pirates prepare for a Sunday night game at Tulsa. There are clouds over the program at the moment, literally and figuratively.

ECU must deal with personnel voids created by injuries in a 16-3 loss to Virginia Tech on Nov. 5. There also is the issue regarding offensive production that must be addressed after the Hokies held the Pirates to a lone field goal last Thursday night.

As if those two factors weren't enough to handle, Mother Nature has thrown a monkey wrench into the mix with persistent wind and rain this week that have combined to hamper practice.

Holtz may have been looking for the silver lining in those clouds as he noted the long-range forecast for the Conference USA clash with the Golden Hurricane.

"Sunday night — I'm sure it'll change five or six times before we get there — but right now I'm hearing rain and 50 degrees, which is ideal for what we're playing in right now," said the Pirates coach on Wednesday afternoon. "That's what we've had to practice in all week ... From what I understand, there's a pretty high chance of thunderstorms that (Sunday) evening.

"We'll just have to wait and see what the weather is going to do. We don't control that."

At midweek, ECU's travel plans hinged on where conditions would be best for a Saturday workout. Holtz was considering a session before flying out or flying earlier and doing a practice at Tulsa on Saturday evening.

"We'll most likely practice here Saturday morning, get on the plane and fly out to Tulsa and then play the game on Sunday night at eight o'clock," he said.

The Pirates will have walk-throughs and meetings on game day.

"That's why I want the travel day on Saturday," Holtz said. "We'll travel most of the day. I may even give (the players) Saturday night free predicated on the weather and what we're going to do — whether or not we practice on Saturday night or Saturday morning, before we go or once we get there.

"We'll get a lot of our meetings out of the way early in the day on Sunday and have a walk through where we can get them out of the hotel and walk them around a little bit before we give them a chance to get a nice nap in before the game."

Injuries force adjustments

East Carolina safety and versatile special teams performer Dekota Marshall was lost for the season with a broken leg in the Virginia Tech game, and Rob Kass, who made the conversion from quarterback to tight end for his senior season, had his college career terminated with a knee injury.

The Pirates experienced a significant number of injuries during their C-USA championship season in 2008. The program's ability to deal with the voids that resulted was a key factor in a late season run that led to a 27-24 win at Tulsa in the league title game. The players who stepped up to fill those voids also created depth that established ECU as a favorite in this year's C-USA race.

"We've had a lot of injuries this year, they just haven't been to so many of the starters as they were a year ago," Holtz said.

Running back has been a spot where the Pirates have been challenged in terms of health. Giavanni Ruffin has had an ankle injury. Brandon Jackson has had a prolonged bout with the flu. Jonathan Williams is out and ditto for Darnel Ballard.

Receivers have been dinged up, too. Dayon Arrington and Jamar Bryant have been sidelined.

"When you take a guy like Rob Kass out of the mix, all of a sudden that's going to throw in Korey Reynolds, a junior college player we brought in who's been progressing along and doing nicely," Holtz said. "I think he's excited about his opportunity.

"With any injury, somebody is going to have to turn and step up. I'm excited to watch Korey play right now. Korey will step in there, Michael Byrd (will play) a little bit at the tight end position. There's a young man we're working with named T.C. Baity. He's a walk-on right now who's really a good, strong young man who knows what to do. He's bringing something to the offense."

Marshall was a key player on special teams in addition to contributing in the secondary rotation. His absence will mean a bigger role for Derek Blacknall, who started against West Virginia and North Carolina. Redshirt freshman Justin Venable has also been getting more reps in practice.

In search of a passing game

East Carolina has scored just two points in the second half of its four non-conference games this season and that was when the Appalachian State punter opted to kick the ball out of his own end zone for a safety rather than risk a Pirate recovery for a touchdown.

ECU moved the ball on one second half possession against Virginia Tech but lost a fumble at the Hokies' 20-yard line on a bad exchange between quarterback Patrick Pinkney and running back Giavanni Ruffin.

"It was frustrating because when you look at the Virginia Tech game, I thought defensively we played really well," Holtz said. "We kept the ball in front of us. We didn't give up the big play, which we had been harping on.

"They really did a good job and I think we continue to get better in the secondary. They're playing really well on defense with those senior linebackers and the way those guys are getting some pressure up front. ... Our special teams are playing really solid. They played pretty much a neutral game with Virginia Tech, which has built the program with a special teams image.

"They didn't give up anything cheap or any home runs. We're playing well there."

Holtz also has been pleased with the offensive line. He cited Sean Allen, Terence Campbell and Willie Smith for their continued improvement. Running back Dominique Lindsay has been running effectively and that has boosted his confidence. Ruffin has shown promising flashes.

Upperclassmen Norman Whitley and J.R. Rogers have proved themselves in the past and are waiting in the wings for an opportunity to contribute again.

The Pirates trailed throughout the game with the Hokies and eventually had to abandon their running game due to time considerations.

"The frustrating thing at this point right now obviously has been the consistency in which we've thrown the football," said the ECU coach. "I would much rather be able to complete a high percentage not as far downfield than I would be able to hit one out of every four plays because it's very hard to keep drives alive and keep the chains moving and keep your defense off the field if you can't make first downs."

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11/12/2009 02:50 AM
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