Keys to the
By Kevin Monroe
ECU vs. Kentucky
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Friday, Jan. 2, 2009, 5 p.m. (ESPN)
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
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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Carolina can defeat Kentucky in today's AutoZone Liberty Bowl if it accomplishes these key objectives:
Rule the Trenches
The way to win this game is to control the line of scrimmage on offense
and defense. The Pirates have struggled at times moving the ball on
offense and this Kentucky defensive front is one of the best they have
faced this year. The Wildcats have 29 sacks and 77 tackles for loss.
Opponents average less than 4 yards per rush against this defense.
Both teams have had some injuries on the offensive and defensive lines.
Khalif Mitchell was a big loss for East Carolina on the defensive line,
but Jay Ross and Linval Joseph have filled in nicely. Stanley Bryant at
left offensive tackle has been much harder to replace and the Pirates
have struggled some trying to protect quarterback Patrick PInkney's
backside. To be successful in this game, running the ball and stopping
the run is imperative. Those two things start at the line of scrimmage.
Win the Takeaway
In a bowl game, turnovers become increasingly
magnified. One mistake in the passing game or running game against a
defense like Kentucky’s could cost East Carolina the game.
Kentucky has a plus-5 turnover ratio through 12 games. The Wildcats have
come up with 25 takeaways this season and have turned the ball over 20
times. The Pirates also have a plus-5 turnover ratio with 32 takeaways
and 27 turnovers. ECU's stats got a huge boost from the
Conference USA Championship game
where the Pirates picked off 5 Tulsa passes.
With two offenses that have struggled at times and two very good
defenses, the team that takes care of the football will most likely win
Plays Are Winning Plays
Last season the Pirates thrived off the big play. Chris Johnson would
often have two or more runs a game of 25 yards-plus. The passing game
also had some big play ability with Jamar Bryant and others.
This season has been very different. The Pirates have struggled to get
the big play, especially in the passing game. Most of that is due to the
injuries to Dwayne Harris and T.J. Lee and the suspension of Bryant. The
younger receivers, like Joe Womack and Darryl Freeney will have to
continue to improve and try to come up with a game-changing catch or
The running game has been off and on, but big plays have been few and
far between. Against Tulsa, Norman Whitley busted a 60-plus-yard run up
the middle for a touchdown that turned the entire game. The team that
can come up with big plays will definitely have the upper hand.
East Carolina is playing in its third straight bowl game under Skip Holtz.
Kentucky is playing in its third straight under Coach Rich Brooks. Each team
won its bowl game last season and is hungry to once again cap its season
with a bowl championship. Home field advantage could possibly go to Kentucky
because of the closer proximity of many of its fans to Memphis. Still, bowl
victories usually come from preparation. Coach Holtz and Company are as good
as any staff in the country in preparing their team, but the extreme
attrition suffered by the Pirates has seriously hampered the talent pool.
The team that wants it the most will be victorious.
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01/02/2009 04:01:20 AM