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Bailey's Take on Pirate Sports

From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, October 4, 2005
By Brian Bailey

Fighting for progress, one fumble at a time


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Every week it seems to be something different when you’re trying to teach your team how to win again.

This past weekend, the turnover monster reared its ugly head. The Pirates lost a couple of key fumbles in the first half, and could never really get into the game against Southern Miss.

Turnovers are usually the difference in games. The fumbles, though, were inexcusable, according to Pirate Coach Skip Holtz.

“The thing that was frustrating about it was, it’s third and three and you run a toss sweep and you get a first down,” said Holtz. “Then you get a defensive back that puts a hit on the runner, and the ball gets loose. Our big guys were creating holes and we were moving the football.”

Holtz says his offensive line continues to improve. He also says the offense deserved much better than what they got with all of the turnovers.

“I feel bad for those seniors on the line,” said Holtz. “It’s not easy to move a 330 pound lineman out of the way to create a hole. Those guys are doing their job and our running backs have an obligation to do their job. Part of their job is to run and make someone miss, but the other part is to hold on to the football.

"When you go back and look at the film, it looked like it was greased. We couldn’t hold on to it and it didn’t matter who had it.”

Southern Miss was picked to win the East Division of Conference USA for a reason. The Golden Eagles, despite the problems with the two hurricanes, are a solid team that came to Greenville with a mission.

Jeff Bower is an outstanding coach, and the Golden Eagles played with a purpose on Saturday night.

Owls force different approach

East Carolina now turns to game number five on the schedule, a first ever match-up with the Rice Owls.

Rice is 0-3 on the season, with losses to UCLA, Texas and UAB. Those three teams are a combined 11-1 on the season so far.

The Owls are a true option football team under Ken Hatfield. Hatfield is the fifth winningest coach in Division IA, with stops at Clemson, Arkansas and Air Force. He is the second winningest coach in Rice history. It is hard to believe that this is Hatfield’s 12th season with the Owls.

Each year, the Pirates seem to play one “option” team per season. Recently, Army has fulfilled that role. This year, Rice comes to Greenville with an old-fashioned option game ready to go.

The Owls are riding two separate nine game losing steaks. Overall, they’ve lost nine in a row, and Rice has dropped its last nine road games.

Still, the Owls cause just enough problems to be a real thorn this week for Skip Holtz and the Pirates.

“The option takes away your aggressiveness on defense,” Holtz said. “It takes away your run to the football mentality. That makes everybody play assignment football. You’ve got to take care of the dive, the quarterback, the pitch. And what it does, it spreads you out across the field. It takes away the mentality that you run to the ball. Then, when they break a tackle, there’s no one there to help out.”

The only way to stop the option is to get off to a good start. That’s what UCLA, Texas and UAB were able to do, building big leads to make the Owls put the ball into the air to play catch-up. Unfortunately, that plays against the Pirates, a team that has gotten off to a slow start most of this season.

“That has not been our 'M-O' to date, to start fast,” said Holtz. “We came out Saturday with a plan to do just that, but we couldn’t hold on to the football. I think this is going to be a challenge for us for sure. I think we’re going to have to help our defense by putting some points on the board with our offense, especially early.”

Holtz knows that his offense may not see the football that many times this week. In normal games, the offense may get 15-17 different drives. Against a ball-control, option-oriented team that number may go down to 9 or 10.

The formula for victory this week is for the Pirates to get off to a good start on offense, to hold on to the football, to score in the red zone, to force a few turnovers, and to make Rice have to come from behind.

The coaches know what it will take; the question will be in executing the game plan. This is certainly a work in progress. A team with only four wins in three seasons is still learning how to win.

“When you learn how to win, you make all the plays to close the deal,” said Holtz. “We’re finding ways now to lose. That’s the hurdle that we have to climb. We’ve made huge strides to date. We’re close, but this team needs to see some success. We’ve played three pretty good teams. But we’ve made critical mistakes in each of those games and lost.”

Learning how to win is perhaps the toughest lesson for a team desperate for success. It’s a hard road, with Rice out to provide another bump on Saturday.

Rice has lost nine straight. East Carolina has dropped three in a row. Something has to give on Saturday.

The victor takes another step in learning how to win.

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02/23/2007 01:32:08 AM

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