(Photo: ECU SID)
Undoubtedly, many East Carolina fans
will be contemplating Saturday's game with Southern Miss as they sit
down to their Thanksgiving meals today.
When the Pirates and Golden Eagles
clash, the winner gets the Eastern Division Conference USA title and
will host the league championship game with Houston on Dec. 5.
The Pirates will be practicing this
morning and Friday afternoon, giving many players the opportunity to be
home with the families for a turkey day dinner.
"There's quite a bit (at stake)," said
ECU football coach Skip Holtz. "There's so much that some things are
getting lost in it. ... You talk about Southern Miss and the rivalry and
the history. It's Senior Day as well."
The Pirates have some seniors who have
made huge contributions in reviving a program that was 3-20 combined for
2003 and 2004.
Sixth-year quarterback Patrick Pinkney
has already played in one senior day,
a 53-21 win over Texas-El Paso a
year ago to the day in 2008 from this year's Nov. 28 matchup with USM.
After completing 17 of 23 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns with
no interceptions against the Miners, Pinkney received another year of
eligibility for medical hardship from the NCAA.
Pinkney is coming off a strong
performance against UAB last week in which he completed 20 of 25 passes
for 250 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in
a 37-21 Pirates win.
The fact that ECU could be playing at
home again next week may take a little edge off of Senior Day but that
might be a good thing considering the potential for emotions to balloon
Holtz wants the Pirates focused on
execution, not emotion.
"Sometimes when you want something so
bad, you're sitting there and you're looking at the scoreboard and
you're like 'We really want this,' " he said. "You lose focus on what
you're trying to get done on that particular play. That's the key and
hopefully that's something we learned a year ago let's not take our
eyes off the prize and what we're trying to do.
"What we're trying to do is just win
every play. If you just try and win every play, you don't try and reach
for the end result. It's kind of like when you're climbing a mountain,
if you sit there and stare at the top, you lose your footing or you
don't put a peg in right. If you don't pay attention to the little
things, you're not going to get to the top.
"That's kind of where we are right now.
We've got to focus on every step that we take, every play that we have
and what's my job on this play and do that for 60 minutes. When the dust
clears, let's look up on the scoreboard and see where we stand."
The pattern of the series is enough to
give the Pirate faithful indigestion. The Golden Eagles are ahead 26-8
on the overall ledger, which dates back to 1951, and have a dominant
15-2 record in games played in Greenville. ECU's only wins at home were
in 1976 (48-0) when Pat Dye was coaching and in 1994 (31-10) in Steve
Logan's third season.
Holtz is 1-3 against the Golden Eagles,
including 0-2 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
"When you look at what Southern Miss
has done and the success that they've had, they have definitely had East
Carolina's number as a program," said the Pirates coach.
Would he rather be playing on campus
Saturday as opposed to journeying to Hattiesburg, MS, where the Pirates
are 6-11? Given the circumstances and the history of the series, Holtz
will be glad to have all the factors in his favor that a home game
"At home," he said. "At home, even with
the record, even against who we're playing. Those records of the past
don't have anything to do with this team. It's something great to write
about and everything else but the mud bowl and some of the bad calls and
the history of this series don't have anything to do with the players
this year playing against the Southern Miss players of this year.
"They're distractions to what we have
to focus on. They came up here and
they beat us (28-21) two years
ago up here at home. That game and last year's game (a 21-3
loss at Southern Miss) probably
have more relevance than anything else. Southern Miss is a program.
They've beat us the last two years in a row. They're a very talented
USM brings different look
The Golden Eagles relied first on a
power running game under former coach Jeff Bower, who resigned after the
2007 season. Under second-year coach Larry Fedora, Southern Miss has a
more contemporary spread attack.
"Any good coach is going to do what his
talent allows him to do," Holtz said. " ... Coach Fedora has done a
really nice job of taking his talent and doing the best job to get them
all on the field and get his athletes in open space."
Regardless of schemes, football comes
down to the basics.
"No matter how you draw it up, what
offense or defense you run, the game still comes down to that, blocking
and tackling," Holtz said. "They've got a huge group of seniors. When
you look at their offensive line, they're got four seniors starting
there. They've got two senior receivers that are starting. They've got
two senior running backs.
"When you look at it, it's going to
come down to who wants it the most. This is going to be a heavyweight
Holtz not watching Weis, Irish
Holtz played at and graduated from
Notre Dame, where his dad, Lou, guided the Irish to their eighth and
most recent consensus national championship in 1988. Notre Dame coach
Charlie Weis, who is 6-5 in his fifth season at the Golden Dome going
into a game at Stanford, has been the subject of widespread speculation
about his future at the school.
"It's hard for me because people expect
you to know what's going on in college football when you're a college
football coach," Skip Holtz said. "But you don't get an opportunity to
watch much of it. ... I see very little college football.
"I would love to see Notre Dame win as
an alumnus. I stay in touch with a lot of guys that played there, that
have been there, and I think it's good for college football when Notre
Dame's winning, but as far as me making an evaluation on their team or
where they are, I just don't know enough about it."
Weis has acknowledged he wasn't hired
to be 6-5.
"A lot of it has to do with how you got
to 6-5," Holtz said. "Whether you're getting better and you're showing
improvement or whether you're getting worse. It's very difficult to tell
that if you don't ever watch a game.
"You can look at a couple of (Notre
Dame's) losses and were they ones we were competitive in, are they ones
that you should win? You throw it up. You've got to look at what kind of
mistakes they're making. Do you go, 'They're 6-5, they've got to do
better?' They could have had a rash of injuries, playing some young guys
and the young guys make a few mistakes and they're going to get better
and better as it goes on.
"They could be playing with all seniors
and getting worse. ... It's impossible for me to comment on that without
having the opportunity to have watched it or be close to it."
If Holtz and ECU put themselves in
position to win an unprecedented second straight C-USA championship
game, it's likely that the Pirate skipper would be among the list of
candidates for the Irish job if Weis isn't retained in South Bend.