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Keys to the Game
Friday, January 2, 2009

By Kevin Monroe

ECU vs. Kentucky
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Friday, Jan. 2, 2009, 5 p.m. (ESPN)
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
Memphis, TN

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).

All Rights Reserved.

East Carolina can defeat Kentucky in today's AutoZone Liberty Bowl if it accomplishes these key objectives:

  1. 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

  2. Win the Takeaway Battle

    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 the game.

  3. Big 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 run.

    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.

The Bottom Line

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


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