(Photo: ECU SID)
East Carolina defensive coordinator
Greg Hudson is preparing to deal with the nation's most productive
offense as the Pirates host Houston at noon on Saturday in the
Conference USA football championship game.
The Cougars (10-2) are averaging 583.25
yards per game.
"It's the same types of offense that we
have seen from Tulsa and Southern Miss," Hudson said. "It's just that
right now they're doing it with as good a quarterback as there is in the
country and a group of receivers that are as fast together as a group as
we've seen, probably ever.
"These guys, they all can clock. It's
not just one or two of 'em. Collectively as a group, the quarterback and
receivers in this style this is probably as much octane as we've seen
in an offense."
Cougars quarterback Case Keenum is the
catalyst for the Houston attack. Keenum has completed 70.55 percent of
his passes this season for 4,922 yards with 38 touchdowns and just six
"They run the football enough that you
have to stop their runs and then contain their screens," Hudson said.
"There's three stages they have the running game, the screen game and
the passing game. If we can stop two-thirds of that, I like our
Keenum, who has been labeled a Heisman
Trophy candidate, will be making his second trip to Dowdy-Ficklen
Stadium, having passed for 401 yards and three touchdowns
in a 41-24 win over ECU on Sept.
The Pirates were
coming off a 30-24 overtime loss to N.C. State
in Raleigh when they faced the Cougars last season. The Wolfpack was the
third BCS opponent ECU faced in its first four games last season. The
topped Virginia Tech 27-22 in
were 24-3 winners over West Virginia
"We were emotionally spent," Hudson
said of the Pirates' mindset going into last season's matchup with the
Cougars. "We were gutted physically from all three of them. They used
their speed and tempo against us. We couldn't rally. We gave up some big
plays in the mix on that. More than anything it was the big play."
Pirates coach Skip Holtz has said that
the ECU defense can't be counted on to shut down Houston's high-powered
attack by itself.
"This game is not going to be won on
just defense," Holtz said. "It's going to take all three phases of the
game to win. They base their offense on how many plays your defense has
been in the game. They'll go to a hurry-up tempo if they sense you
getting tired. If you have a three-and-out on offense, they're going to
come out and really speed things up.
"It'll be a challenge. Our offense is
going to have to help our defense and our defense is going to have to
help our offense. Our special teams are going to play a key role in the
field position game."
Hudson said ECU needs the type of
effort that led to the win over West Virginia, which was ranked No. 8 at
the time and featured talented quarterback Pat White.
"The No. 1 reason we were able to beat
West Virginia was that Pat White spent most of the time on the bench in
the first and third quarters," Hudson said. "Our offense was the best
defense that day. ... Keenum can't do anything when he's sitting there
drinking Gatorade. ... That's got to be part of our plan."
Pirates quarterback Patrick Pinkney
expressed confidence following a 25-20 win over Southern Miss last
Saturday that put ECU in the C-USA title game.
"If we execute and just play our game,
we'll be fine," Pinkney said. "We've got total belief in our defense.
When our defensive line gets pressure on him, it's going to be a good
day for our defense. I just feel that already.
"When we get the ball and control it,
we're a power team. Our (running game) opens up the pass like it did
today. I just feel like if we control the ball on offense, and execute
each and every play, we'll be fine."
ECU had five interceptions
in a 27-24 win at Tulsa in last
year's C-USA title game. Hudson said the Pirates' secondary could focus
on pass defense in that game.
"We've won a lot of games against
passing teams because of those guys up front," Hudson said.
Guys up front such as Jay Ross, Linval
Joseph and C.J. Wilson have stepped up as point producers for the
Pirates in recent weeks.
"That just puts a big hop in their
step," Hudson said of the impact of defensive linemen scoring. "You look
at 21 points in one game (Memphis). The kids get excited about that."
Joseph scored an offensive touchdown
from a power set against Southern Miss.
"We haven't seen something like that
since the Fridge (William Perry of the Chicago Bears)," Hudson said.
"It's fun. Those things pick your team up and give you a spark. They
give you confidence. You also know the coaches believe in you.
"That's been another factor. They know
the coaches are creative. They put Linval back there. They trusted him
and it paid off."
Unlike last season, ECU will play for
the league title at home. Hudson hopes the crowd will make enough noise
that Keenum's communication skills will be challenged.
"Offenses can struggle with crowds,"
Hudson said. "You can be loud when your defense is out there playing.
That's what we've got to do. They do a lot of checks at the line, a lot
of audibles. We've got to make it so they can't hear."
Assuming the Cougars can make their
checks at the line of scrimmage, what must the Pirates do to accomplish
their objective of back-to-back league titles?
"Stop the run," Hudson said. "And do
not get out of position with all the motion and shifts. Stay in your
foxhole and keep your knees bent."