CHRONICLING EAST CAROLINA & CONFERENCE USA SPORTS
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View from the East
Thursday, November 7, 2013

By Al Myatt

Al Myatt

Turnovers plague Golden Hurricane

Lofty preseason expectations haven't panned out for Pirates' Saturday foe

 

Turnovers plague Golden Hurricane

 

Home stand starts decisive stretch

 
Audio: Brian Bailey Show
The Brian Bailey Show airs on Pirate Radio 1250 on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. This week's guest was Marc Yellock: Replay show...
 
Audio: Coach Ruff Weekly Presser
ECU coach Ruffin McNeill discussed the Pirates' road win over FIU and previewed their home game with Tulsa: Select clip...
 
Audio: Steve Logan Show
The Steve Logan Show airs on FM 103.7 and FM 94.1 each Monday from 6-8 p.m. Replay this week's show: Select clip...
 

C-USA players of the week

 

A November to remember?

 

Game day photo gallery

 
Audio: Coach Ruff Post-game
ECU coach Ruffin McNeill met with the press after the Pirates' Conference USA road win over FIU: Select clip...
 

C-USA scoreboard & standings

 

Greg's Game Day Breakdown

 

This week in college football history

 

Kevin's Keys to the Game

 

By Al Myatt
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About four months ago when Conference USA had its football media day in Dallas, the league coaches made Tulsa a unanimous choice to win the West Division.

Going into Saturday's matchup with East Carolina, the coaches' pick to capture the East Division, the Golden Hurricane has fallen well short of those expectations.

Tulsa is 2-6 overall and 1-3 in C-USA.

The defending Conference USA champions are coming off a 34-15 homecoming loss to Texas-San Antonio after trailing 24-0 at the half.

Coach Bill Blankenship apologized to the fan base in his postgame remarks.

A season-opening 34-7 loss at Bowling Green indicated that there might be some dropoff from a team that went 11-3 in 2012.

The Falcons loaded the box and Tulsa couldn't get it done with their passing game.

The Golden Hurricane regrouped for a 30-27 win over Colorado State, but three straight losses to Oklahoma (51-20), Iowa State (38-21) and Rice (30-27, OT) ensued.

Tulsa beat Texas-El Paso 34-20 but fell 14-7 at Tulane after an open date prior to last week's loss.

The Golden Hurricane only had three returning starters on defense from the team that went 7-1 in C-USA and beat Central Florida 33-27 in overtime for last season's league title.

Tulsa beat Iowa State 31-17 in the Liberty Bowl last year, avenging a season-opening 38-23 loss to the Cyclones.

Tulsa was second last season in scoring defense in C-USA, allowing an average of 23.6 points per game.

This year, opponents are averaging 31.0 points against the Golden Hurricane.

Turnovers are another factor contributing to diminished performance. A year ago, Tulsa was a plus-three for the season on turnovers. This year, the turnover margin is at minus-10, which ranks 13th and next to last in C-USA.

Four turnovers against UTSA proved costly.

"Football is a funny game," Blankenship said this week. "Sometimes, you can look at statistics way too much. The irony of it (loss to Texas-San Antonio) is we had more first downs than they did. Offensive yardage was about the same. Our defense versus their offense they were 3-of-12 on third downs. We were 9-of-20. Usually, third downs are a big tell-tale statistic. We were 2-of-3 on fourth downs. But the key as we talk about always how deadly are turnovers? How deadly is the hidden yardage involved with those turnovers? That's the biggie.

"I don't have the pixie dust to fix that. We're certainly working on it. We're doing the drills. We're making it a point of emphasis."

Coaches have similar backgrounds

Blankenship and ECU's Ruffin McNeill are both coaching at their alma maters. Blankenship, a quarterback in his playing days, graduated Tulsa in 1979. McNeill, a defensive back for the Pirates, received his degree in 1980.

USA Today reported salaries for most of the coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision recently. McNeill is earning $1.15 million while Blankenship's annual compensation is $619,549.

The fact that both coaches played in the programs they now coach gives them a unique relationship to their schools, one that most college coaches don't have.

McNeill has said repeatedly that the post at ECU is not a stepping stone for him. He's not looking to leave for more money elsewhere.

He is 25-19 as the Pirates head coach in three-plus seasons and will make his third postseason trip in four seasons this year.

ECU improved to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in C-USA with a 34-13 win at Florida International last week, becoming bowl eligible in the process.

The Pirates can take another step toward their goal of a league title against the Golden Hurricane.

"Having a sustained focus is what I've talked to them about on their assignments and fundamentals," McNeill said when asked what would be important to get a win in Saturday's 3:45 p.m. contest. "We need a great week of preparation. The fundamental part of me never leaves. Making sure we tackle great, block great, great footwork and body position, those things.

"We need to play fast, smart, confident and take advantage of our opportunities. We need to understand that we're going to get Tulsa's best shot."

McNeill is looking forward to the supportive environment that accompanied his first win as ECU coach by a 51-49 margin in the season opener in 2010 when Dominique Davis hit Justin Jones with a touchdown pass as time expired.

"I'm glad to be back in Dowdy-Ficklen, I'll be honest," McNeill said. "It seems like a long time since we've been home. I'm looking forward to it."

The Pirates have played just one game at home since Sept. 14, a 55-14 conquest of Southern Miss on Oct. 19.

Logan, Garrard among inductees

Former football coach Steve Logan and one of his top quarterbacks, David Garrard, are scheduled to be recognized at halftime of the Tulsa game as new members of the ECU hall of fame.

Logan was 69-58 in 11 seasons at ECU from 1992-2002. He has the most wins of any Pirates football coach.

Coincidentally, Logan is a graduate of Tulsa.

Garrard recently came out of retirement to sign with the New York Jets.

As fate would have it, the Jets have an open date on ECU's hall of fame weekend.

Hoops starts Friday night

There will be a lot of new players in the East Carolina rotation when the Pirates open the 2013-14 basketball season at home on Friday at 8 p.m. against North Carolina Wesleyan.

ECU lost four of its top five scorers from the team that went 23-12 and won the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament last April.

Akeem Richmond leads the returning corps. He averaged 10.9 points and hit the game winner from behind the arc at the buzzer in a 77-74 at Weber State for the CIT title.

Prince Williams, Paris Roberts-Campbell, Michael Zangari and Marshall Guilmette will have expanded roles for coach Jeff Lebo this season.

Baseball, too

There also will be significant activity with the baseball program this weekend with the Purple-Gold World Series.

The first of three nine-inning games starts this evening at 5:15 p.m.

Game two is Friday at 5:15 p.m. and game three is Sunday at 1 p.m.

Admission is free.

The Pirates will have considerably more pitching experience in 2014 as compared to last season. This will be ECU's final campaign in C-USA.

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11/07/2013 03:03 AM
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