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Bailey's Take on the GMAC Bowl

From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, December 18, 2001

By Brian Bailey
Sports Anchor of WNCT-TV 9

Are Pirates Bowl-worthy? Just Ask Logan


Bowl Week is Here!

East Carolina is Mobile and getting set for Wednesday night’s match-up with Marshall. Reports from Mobile say that practices have been going well, and this East Carolina team is putting the finishing touches on the game plan for the Thundering Herd.

The team practiced in the rain on Monday. The weather really didn’t slow the squad down, and proved to be more of a nuisance then anything else.

“We’ve had great weather,” said Coach Steve Logan. “This was just a little speed bump. It really didn’t bother us all that much and the weather is expected to better tomorrow and for game day.”

Logan Has No Apologies

The Pirate coach was a little edgy when asked in Mobile about the bowl qualifications of his football team.

“I’ve been at East Carolina for 13 years. I was here in 1996 when this football team beat North Carolina State, Miami and South Carolina, all on the road, and stayed home at 8-3,” noted Logan. “So guess what — I’m not apologizing for being here. We’ve got a good football team. We’re fun to watch."

Actually, the N.C. State game was in Charlotte, but Logan's point was loud and clear just the same. In case the media didn't get the point, he clarified it for them.

"Every sportscaster and sportswriter has got airtime and white paper to fill up. You have to say something," he said. "You can either be a proponent or a critic. You just have to choose. We’re here and we’re proud to be here.” 

And that’s about as much emotion as you’ll see out of the Pirate coach!

Hoping for the Best

Nothing would make Pirate fans any happier then to see this football team put together a complete effort in the GMAC Bowl. The closest ECU came to that kind of effort in the regular season was against Memphis, when the Pirates were dominating.

Dominating this Marshall team, though, won’t be easy.

The Thundering Herd likes to throw the football. Quarterback Byron Leftwich completed almost 67% of his passes this season, throwing for 4,122 yards and 37 touchdowns, with just seven interceptions.

Contrast those stats with East Carolina’s problems in the secondary. The Pirates were 82nd this season in total defense, and 101st against the pass. ECU gave up over 260 yards of passing offense per game.

Leftwich is coming off of a spectacular performance in the MAC Championship game against Toledo. In that loss, the Herd quarterback was 32-52 through the air for 421 yards and four touchdowns. Toledo won the game 41-36 after Marshall blew a 23-0 lead.

Going into the Toledo game, the Thundering Herd was riding a ten-game winning streak. Marshall’s only prior loss this season was to Florida, 49-14, back in the season opener.

Coach Logan feels that the Pirates will have an advantage, because of the level of competition the two teams have seen.

“I think we have seen better, quicker teams on a week-to-week basis,” he said. "That's not to say that Marshall hasn’t played good teams, but I think the schedule that we have played will help us in this game.”

Pirates to Exploit Herd Rushing Defense

On the other side of the ledger, Marshall has struggled stopping the run. And if the Herd couldn’t stop some of the teams they have seen this year, then Leonard Henry should have a great GMAC Bowl.

Henry rushed for 1,432 yards this season, but he was held to just 159 yards in the losses to Louisville and Southern Mississippi. He has seven one-hundred-yard games this season, and a pair of two-hundred-yard games.

The Pirate strategy should be to control the clock with Henry, keeping Byron Leftwich and the Herd’s offense off the field.  I’d give Marshall a steady diet of some real thunder with Leonard Henry, and then I’d slip them a dose or two of Art Brown.

This is not Coach Logan’s favorite strategy. He’s said a number of times that he’d rather get the football, score and kick off to the other team.

Look for Logan and company to get Henry started, and then throw in some early play action passes. Knowing Logan and ECU offensive coordinator Doug Martin, I look for at least one deep pass in the Pirates first drive, if East Carolina has decent field position.

However, this is not the team to get into a shootout with.

Only two quarterbacks threw for over 4,000 yards this season — Marshall’s Byron Leftwich and Fresno State’s David Carr. 

In fact, perhaps the worse thing that could happen is for the Pirates to get out to a big lead. East Carolina has struggled in that role all season long. On the other hand, Marshall pulled the same trick in blowing that 23-0 lead to Toledo in the MAC title game.

GMAC Bowl Prediction

After a brief visit with a gypsy and a very cloudy crystal ball, here’s how I see this GMAC Bowl going down.

The Pirates get out to a quick start and jump out on top 14-0 in the first quarter. Marshall fights back with three unanswered touchdown passes for a 21-14 lead. Just before the half, Leonard Henry breaks free on a 56-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 21-21 at halftime.

In the second half, Marshall scores a field goal to open the third quarter, and then capitalizes on a Pirate turnover for a 31-21 lead going into the fourth quarter.

That’s when David Garrard and company get it rolling. They score early in the quarter on a 42-yard strike from Garrard to Richard Alston. The Pirates get the football back, and march down the field again, scoring on a Leonard Henry run on a draw play from 20 yards out.

Byron Leftwich has 1:45 to bring the Thundering Herd a bowl win. Leftwich brings the Herd inside the Pirate 30 yard line, when he is picked off by Kelly Hardy.

Final Score: East Carolina 35, Marshall 31

It’s another thriller, and this time the Pirates are winners!

Let’s hope it goes this way on Wednesday night.

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02/23/2007 01:20:00 AM

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