Game 10: ECU 56, Memphis 40
Sunday, November 4, 2007
By Denny O'Brien
Prolific C.J. offsetting Bucs'
All Rights Reserved.
MEMPHIS — East Carolina still has miles to
sail before it can proclaim itself the King of Conference USA. But the
Pirates’ 56-40 victory over Memphis Saturday certainly carved a huge chunk
off of that quest.
Most of that was chipped away by the swift
feet of running back Chris Johnson, who dashed for a career high 301 rushing
yards and four touchdowns.
Plenty more was chiseled by quarterback
Patrick Pinkney, who darn near eclipsed the century mark on the ground
himself with 94 yards and a 45-yard TD scamper.
All totaled, the Pirates bulldozed past a
tame Tigers defense for 491 rushing yards and 641 overall. And had ECU not
taken a nap in the second quarter, it easily could have eclipsed a cool 750
for the day.
“The running backs and quarterbacks running
the ball did a great job once they got into that second level of turning and
making one miss,” Pirates coach Skip Holtz said. “We were the recipient of a
bunch of big plays because our backs did a great job of making that one
“I think the real difference is the job
that (Steve) Shankweiler has done with that offensive line. What that
offensive line did today was they got them through to the second level. Once
they got there, they can make some things happen in space.”
For Johnson, that often means touchdowns.
Long ones. Saturday he blistered the Memphis secondary on scoring runs of
70, 50, 44, and 16 yards, using his explosive speed to widen the gap between
himself and chasing tacklers.
Likewise for other ECU runners. In addition
to Pinkney’s 94 yards, the Pirates received 46 from Jonathan Williams, many
of which were accompanied by a punishing stiff-arm.
Dominique Lindsay also got into the act
with a 42-yard effort that included a 22-yard score.
But from the opening drive, it was clear
that this game belonged to Johnson. Had he been given a heavier workload,
it’s a good bet he would have broken Scott Harley’s single game rushing
record of 351 yards.
“The offensive line played great,” Johnson
said. “They blocked great and gave me holes to run through. If it wasn’t for
the offensive line, none of this would have happened.
“I ran the ball hard all day, and the line
helped me out. I made the safety miss and had a lot of big runs.”
The way Johnson and the Pirates opened the
game, it appeared as if they might cruise all the way to the title game. ECU
torched Memphis with its big-play running game en route to what seemed a
comfortable 21-3 first half advantage.
But the Pirates released the accelerator
and lost their rhythm offensively. For the final 14 minutes of the first
half, ECU struggled to move the chains as neither Pinkney nor Rob Kass were
in synch under center.
Meanwhile, the same defense that has
struggled against the pass this season resurfaced after its encouraging
performance last week.
“It wasn’t pretty on defense,” Holtz said.
“But Memphis is a good offensive football team. They’ve been doing that for
the last three or four weeks of the season. It’s not like all of a sudden,
‘Where did this come from?’
"They’ve got great receivers. I think
(Martin) Hankins is an excellent quarterback.”
He certainly looked it against the Pirates.
Hankins spent much of the day dissecting ECU’s secondary, and eventually
joined a growing fraternity of quarterbacks who have eclipsed 300 yards
passing against the Bucs.
That’s an issue that keeps the Pirates
vulnerable anytime they face a halfway capable QB. Unfortunately, that is
most occasions in pass-oriented C-USA.
At this stage, Johnson appears to be the
best defense the Pirates can offer. Not so much because he keeps the
opposing quarterback on the sidelines, but for his big-play ability and
knack for reaching paydirt.
In coming games, unless the secondary
undergoes a dramatic makeover, the Pirates will need more of what Johnson
has generously provided. That is the formula that has placed East Carolina
driver’s seat in C-USA’s East Division.
And you can bet Johnson will be the main
ingredient during the remaining stretch of the league race.
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11/11/2007 12:53:52 AM