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View from the 'ville
Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Al Myatt

Bucs brace for Keenum, Cougars

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

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 interceptions.

"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 chances."

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. 27, 2008.

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 Pirates had topped Virginia Tech 27-22 in Charlotte and were 24-3 winners over West Virginia in Greenville.

"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."

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12/03/2009 01:50 AM


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