Insights and Observations
Wednesday, November 1, 2006
By Henry Hinton
Holtz has Pirates positioned
for run at title
Key conference wins speed
up program's two-year journey from doormat to contender
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the win over Southern Methodist two weeks ago,
East Carolina coach Skip Holtz told his charges that the new mantra was to
be “humble and hungry.”
It was a theme that
seemed to stick like glue to a team still rebuilding but steadily improving.
You will have to forgive
the coach if the four-mile smile on his face seems to be painted on this
week. Holtz is in the midst of overseeing a turnaround in the Pirate program
that could be of ‘coach of the year’ proportions.
If ECU continues to win,
it will be favored in each of its remaining games. Yes, that includes the
finale in Raleigh against N.C. State, a team that has already lost to two
teams the Pirates have defeated.
While it is too early for
a team with a 4-4 record to pop the champagne corks, winning creates winners
and right now the Pirates seem destined to finish strong. The excitement
that surrounds the program internally and among the fan base equals the way
things were ten years ago in Greenville.
victory over Southern Miss in Hattiesburg
this past weekend changes the entire complexion of Conference USA East. Even
though there are other teams with just two losses in the division, the
Pirates arguably have the toughest part of their schedule behind them. And
they got some help Tuesday night in
the division race in the form of
Southern Methodist's win over UAB,
which defeated ECU earlier this season
but now has three losses.
It remains to be seen how
the year will end, but Holtz and his staff have put their team in position
for one of the largest turnarounds in the country. The record is marred only
poor performance against league leader Tulsa,
which continues to look like the class of the conference. Losing
on the road at Navy and UAB came in the
season's first two weeks, a time when this team was still finding itself.
The only other loss
came at the hands of West Virginia, a
in contention for the national championship.
The play of ECU in that game was the first inkling that this team might be
better than advertised in the preseason.
Continuing to win puts
the Pirates on a collision course for a rematch of the Oct. 14th game in
Greenville, where ECU was outclassed by Tulsa 31-10. The Golden Hurricane
looks like a lock to win the West Division of C-USA and would most likely
host the postseason conference championship game on Dec. 1. The team with
the highest percentage of conference wins hosts the game.
The question is whether
Holtz’s players have learned
how to handle being winners. When the target is on your back
there is added pressure. This weekend’s game at Central Florida will be a
good test as it will be the first time the Pirates have seemingly entered a
game as the favorite with so much on the line.
Perhaps the most hopeful
thing about this particular ECU team is
the play of the defense. Defensive
coordinator Greg Hudson and his staff have brought a new expectation to the
level of play and it is paying huge dividends. Displaying amazing team speed
and a new toughness, the Pirates have been nothing short of brilliant most
of the time and with the exception of only a few games. They have exhibited
a spirit on that side of the ball not seen at ECU in years.
Winning a game like the
one Saturday night in Hattiesburg has to add a swagger to the step of a
defensive squad that has answered the bell when challenged. Wisely, Holtz
has downplayed this all week, saying it is now about playing one game at a
time. Classic coachspeak, but truer words were never spoken.
There is no question,
however, that if his players answer his request to stay ‘hungry and humble,’
they have what it takes to go all the way to the championship game. And that
is a huge step for a program that won three games in the two years before
Keep your holiday plans
open. At a minimum this team is going to a bowl.
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This page updated
04/21/08 07:01 PM.