Insights and Observations
Monday, September 12, 2005
By Henry Hinton
Big stakes ride on
in on the radio or catch the live feed of
today's Talk of the Town with
Henry Hinton and guest Greenville mayor
James Pinkney is the key.
Make no mistake. Simply put, the return of the junior quarterback to the
East Carolina football team gives the program a chance to be competitive.
After serving an academic
suspension during spring semester and spending summer school regaining his
eligibility, it is hard to imagine Pinkney playing any better than he did in
the opener against Duke. But the truth is he must play at that level each
week if ECU is going to have a chance to win.
Coming into that game
there were a lot of questions for both teams. Both programs needed a win
badly to set the table for the rest of the season.
Who had the best players?
What role would the home setting play for ECU? Would the new coaching staff
make some early season mistakes? Was the Pirate defense really better as
Skip Holtz had said after pre-season scrimmages?
The home stadium
advantage was a factor. The Pirate players did seem to feed off the
enthusiasm of a rejuvenated fan base. Dowdy-Ficklen looked and felt like the
ECU of old. Emotion can only take a team so far but there is no question it
was a factor in the opener. The challenge now is to carry that on the road
this week at Wake Forest.
It would be somewhat
forgivable if the new coaching staff did make some first game mistakes, but
if they did it was not evident. Coach Holtz held what he termed “hideaway
meetings” just before fall drills began. The purpose was to go over every
potential situation, particularly on game day, right down to the smallest
detail. It paid off.
The players seem to have
noticed the extreme organization and precision of the coaching staff as
well. There was a telling moment in this week’s Skip Holtz television show
when some of the players were asked which team is best in the state of North
Carolina. Srong safety Zach Baker, who made several key defensive plays in
the Duke game, responded by saying that ECU is the best because “we have the
best coaching staff.” ‘Nuff said.
Speaking of the defense,
I was reminded of the great line from the movie Butch Cassidy and the
Sundance Kid when Butch and Sundance kept saying, “Who are those guys?.”
The defense played an inspired game particularly in the secondary. Every
pass was challenged and many were either knocked down or intercepted. There
were at least three knock-downs that might have and probably should have
Holtz and defensive
coordinator Greg Hudson have put together a terrific staff that includes
many years of experience. Consider this: there was not one player on the
field on Saturday on the defensive side of the ball who was not in the
program last year, yet another affirmation that coaching does indeed matter.
Secondary coach Rick Smith has made a huge
Now to the question of
which team had the better players? Who do you think? In assessing that
situation I have come to the conclusion that overall Duke may have had the
edge, with the exception of three key positions. ECU had a better
quarterback and running back. There is little question who had the best wide
receiver. Aundrae Allison separated himself early as the best on the field.
Up front on both sides,
while ECU looked much improved, Duke seemed to be more physical and won the
battle of the trenches most of the time. Once again, give Holtz and his
coaching staff credit. After we all watched Pinkney get sacked over and over
again in 2004 it was amazing that the same line (for the most part) allowed
just one sack against Duke — and truthfully that came on a shoestring tackle
that Pinkney probably should have avoided.
Pirate fans have long
known the coaching skills of Steve Shankweiler and it appears he is working
his magic once again on a group of kids who struggled last season. While the
O line did a nice job in pass protection it will become necessary in the
coming weeks, starting at Wake Forest, for the unit to be tougher in the run
game. Getting the push and making the holes for Chris Johnson to sneak
through will require a more “smash ‘em in the mouth” attitude than we saw in
game one. Duke looked stronger.
The play of the offensive
line may actually be the key to the rest of the season. While we already
know that Pinkney is not injury-prone (if he was he would have spent the
entire season last year in the hospital), the O line must protect him.
Like I said, with Pinkney
ECU has a chance. Without him… well, I prefer not to think about it.
Memo to offensive line:
Play hard boys!
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04/21/2008 07:08:49 PM