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View from the 'ville
Thursday, September 11, 2008

By Al Myatt

Pirates in the crosshairs

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

We live in the information age, where news from around the world is only a left click of the mouse away.

It wouldn't be practical to isolate the East Carolina football team from the media like jurors in a big court case, but hopefully the Pirates have their recently-elevated position in the college football world in proper perspective.

ECU is under a siege of media hype but regardless of what ESPN and others might say about the games with N.C. State, Virginia, Southern Miss and Central Florida that stand in the way of a BCS berth, the Pirates better follow Coach Skip Holtz's directives and make every effort to go 1-0 at Tulane on Saturday.

Saturday's date at the Louisiana Superdome is indeed a dangerous proposition.

There's the letdown factor the tendency not to perform as well after a major victory. The Pirates arguably had the biggest win in program history last week, dominating then-No. 8 West Virginia, 24-3.

It was the highest-ranked opponent ECU has ever beaten. The fan base celebrated. The national media took notice. The Pirates jumped to No. 14 in the Associated Press rankings and No. 20 in the coaches poll.

Sports talk radio has a crush on the world beaters from Greenville. Hopefully, the Pirates haven't been listening.

It will be hard for ECU to generate the same degree of focus, motivation and emotion that it had in two wins thus far over then-No. 17 Virginia Tech and the Mountaineers because the atmosphere will be greatly subdued in comparison and roles will be reversed.

The Pirates are no longer underdogs. They have been hastily ushered into a penthouse suite reserved for college football's elite. To pay the rent you simply can't lose to teams perceived to be lesser opponents.

You can be ushered out just as quickly.

Holtz rolled the tape of last year's 48-7 loss to the Mountaineers during WVU game week and the players quickly realized they better be at their best in order to avoid utter embarrassment on national television.

Tape of the Pirates' 35-12 win over Tulane would hardly have the same effect. Hopefully, the Pirates didn't celebrate too much, get too cocky or figure they've gotten the tough games behind them after the victory over the Mountaineers that stunned much of the college football world.

If they didn't, then there could be a major bump in the road in the Big Easy.

Another factor is that Tulane may be better than expected. The Green Wave gave Alabama all it wanted last Saturday in a 20-6 loss in Tulane's season opener. That's the same Tide that put a 34-10 whupping on a Clemson team in the Georgia Dome that was supposed to rule the ACC.

Tulane outgained Alabama 318-172 in total yardage. Its defense had four sacks and allowed the Tide just one sustained drive for its lone offensive score. Special teams proved the Wave's undoing as 'Bama returned a punt for a touchdown and blocked another punt for a score.

Tulane coach Bob Toledo said, "I really believe we're gaining confidence. We played physical. We played fast. We are a much-improved football team."

That couldn't be a clearer warning as it applies to the Pirates if it was a message from the surgeon general on a pack of cigarettes.

Toledo, who formerly coached at UCLA, recounted the Wave's trip to Greenville last season.

"We ended the season with them last year and I remember going on the field and I believe we only had 53 players," he recalled. "It was the day after Thanksgiving (actually two days after turkey day, Nov. 24). I looked at their guys running out of their little Pirate ship over there and they had 130 football players.

"I'll never forget Skip coming up to me before the game and saying, 'When's the rest of your guys coming out?' I said, 'This is it, baby. This is all we got.' "

Toledo said he expected ECU to come out of the gate with two wins.

"They're experienced," he said. "They're extremely physical. They're very athletic. I just think they're outstanding. I've said to one person, 'I think they might be better than Alabama' and the reason I say that is because Alabama is a young football team.

" ... Their quarterback, Pat Pinkney you're in for a treat if you watch this football game. He is really outstanding and very accurate."

Toledo went on to praise ECU's running backs, the offensive line and the size and physicality of the Pirates' defensive front.

Tulane has not beaten a ranked team in 26 years and the Pirates provide the Wave that opportunity this weekend.

"We're just going to stay humble and hungry," Holtz said. "We can't control all of the speculation around us. If we do, we could throw it all away."

ECU suddenly has some potentially great things in store this season but it must protect the assets it has acquired in an impressive 2-0 start as they open Conference USA play.

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09/11/2008 01:12:37 AM


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