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Keys to the Game
Sunday, December 23, 2007

By Kevin Monroe

ECU vs. Boise State

Each week, Kevin Monroe, color analyst for the Pirate ISP Sports Radio Network, provides “Kevin’s Keys to The Game,” outlining what East Carolina must do to beat its opponent. Monroe brings a unique perspective to the task, not only as a member of the broadcast team, but also as a former defensive back for the Pirates (1995-99).

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East Carolina can defeat 22nd-ranked Boise State if it accomplishes these key objectives:

  1. Slow the Broncos' ground attack: Boise State is known for its ability to move the ball up and down the field and score with any team in the country. Being in a conference with Hawaii, Fresno State and Nevada has forced Coach Chris Peterson to concentrate heavily on offense. The Broncos' leading rusher is Ian Johnson who had a breakout year last year and was very instrumental in the win over Oklahoma in Fiesta Bowl. In only 10 games this season, Johnson has rushed 203 times for 1,030 yards and 16 touchdowns, but he hasn't carried the rushing load on his own. There are three other running backs with at least 22 carries. Jeremy Avery has 93 carries for 603 yards and 8 TD’s and averages 6.5 yards per rush. D.J. Harper carried 84 times for 373 yards and 5 scores and averages 4.4 yards per tote. The Pirates have been solid most of the year against the run, but this will be one of their challenges.

  2. Oh yeah, they can throw it too: The rushing game is just half the story. BSU's passing attack is just as good, if not better, than its ground game. Quarterback Taylor Tharp is 259-379 for 3070 yards and 28 touchdowns. Tharp is accurate, completing almost 70% of his passes and only throwing 9 interceptions. Tharp’s favorite target is wide receiver Jeremy Childs with 82 receptions for 1,045 yards and 9 touchdowns, but Childs was suspended last week for a violation of team rules. In Childs' absence, Tharp will look for other receivers to step up, including Titus Young and Austin Pettis. The pair has 37 receptions and 11 touchdowns combined. The Broncos are passing for an average of 283 yards per game. The Pirates have struggled all year against air assaults, giving up 290 yards per game.

  3. Get the ball to the playmakers: Deion Sanders once said big-time players make big plays in big games. The offensive star of East Carolina’s team is Chris Johnson, but he has had plenty of help from Jamar Bryant and Dwayne Harris. Boise State is just as good on defense as it is on offense, so these players and others will have to meet the challenge as BSU is giving up only 325 yards of total offense and 20 points per game. East Carolina is averaging 377 yards and 30 points per game. The Pirates will need to put the ball in the hands of the big three early and often on Sunday to stretch the field and the BSU defense. A silent day from any of these guys could spell trouble for ECU. The name of the game may be score as much as possible. Nevada scored 67 against Boise State and it still wasn’t enough.

  4. Bag of Tricks: In bowl games, each team has two to three weeks to prepare and 12 games of film to observe. So there is not much either team will do that will surprise the other. The only advantages the Pirates may have are new plays that don't show up on film — and trick plays. Every coach has a stable of trick plays and Coach Skip Holtz hasn’t unveiled many of those plays this season. Last year, Boise State ran several against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl to pull off the upset. Expect to see fireworks in Sunday’s game from both teams

The bottom line: Boise State is an excellent football team that scores 40 points per game and limits its opposition to only 20. The Broncos can beat you running the ball or throwing it. Defensively they are very stingy, especially against the run, giving up only 114 yards per game. The Pirates will need to execute sound fundamentals in all aspects of the game to get this victory. Expect a high scoring shootout.

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12/22/2007 08:27:11 PM


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