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Pirate Notebook No. 403
Monday, November 2, 2009

Denny O'Brien

Pinkney key against Hokies

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Harris Poll

For the fourth year in a row, Denny O'Brien is a member of the voting panel for the Harris Interactive College Football Poll, commissioned by the Bowl Championship Series. As a service to readers of this site, O'Brien's ballot will be published in this space each Monday throughout the season.

The Harris Poll is a component of the BCS Standings. The BCS Standings also take into account the USA Today Coaches Poll and an average of several computer service rankings.

A senior columnist for, Bonesville The Magazine and The Pirates' Chest, O'Brien was nominated to the Harris Poll panel by Conference USA. View the entire 114-member panel.

Denny O'Brien's Harris Poll Ballot

(Ballot cast 11.01.09)

  1. Texas
  2. Alabama
  3. Florida
  4. Texas Christian
  5. Iowa
  6. Cincinnati
  7. Boise State
  8. Oregon
  9. LSU
10. Penn State
11. Georgia Tech
12. Miami
13. Houston
14. Southern Cal
15. Ohio State
16. Pittsburgh
17. Utah
18. Oklahoma
19. Arizona
20. Oklahoma State
22. Wisconsin
23. Notre Dame
24. California
25. Virginia Tech

View this Week's Complete Harris, AP & Coaches Polls

View this Week's Inaugural 2009 BCS Football Rankings


O'Brien: Pinkney key against Hokies
O'Brien: Harris Poll ballot
BVL: BCS Standings
BVL: This Week's Polls
C-USA Standings, Scores, Schedule, TV
Myatt: Opportune Bucs feast on miscues
Batten: Pirates find the mark on 'big target'
Game Center: ECU 38, Memphis 19
O'Brien: Offense ignites under pressure
Box Score / Statistics
BVL Audio: Replay Skip Holtz post-game
Talk FM: Replay Game Day Countdown
Monroe: Kevin's Keys to the Game

It's easy to get caught up in the recent resurgence of the East Carolina rushing attack.

Watching running backs Dominique Lindsay and Giavanni Ruffin swallow Memphis real estate by seven and ten yard chunks last Tuesday was a sign that, perhaps, the Pirates have discovered their offensive Mojo.

After weeks of floundering around the 20-point plateau, ECU finally broke through with consecutive efforts of 49 (Rice) and 38 points (Memphis) thanks to the headway it made on the ground.

With a primetime showdown against Virginia Tech quickly approaching, it's tempting to believe the Pirates can continue their success on the ground. Maybe they can. And if they do, there is no reason to think the Pirates don't have a shot against the more celebrated Hokies.

"When you can turn and run the ball, that's one of the things that you are able to do," Holtz said after the Pirates' dominating win over Memphis. "When you can turn and put some touchdowns on the scoreboard instead of kicking field goals all the time, it makes a difference.

"We had just talked about the only way to turn and take the air out of somebody's sail is to be a physical-natured football team. You can't just throw it around and go, well we beat you. You've got to be able to line up and run it."

That's largely true for ECU under Holtz. Though there have been a couple of exceptions over the past five years, the Pirates have been most successful when they owned the line of scrimmage and time of possession.

The formula for success has been a departure from most of Conference USA, and to some degree the current offensive trends that are prevalent across college football.

But for the Pirates to take the next step as an offense — and to have any conceivable chance of beating the Hokies — they must become more prolific when they pass. That's been the missing element since the season opener against Appalachian State, and much of it begins with quarterback Patrick Pinkney.

While it is unfair to pin all of ECU's previous offensive misfortune on Pinkney, there is no question that he is responsible for some of it. To say that more was expected from him this season would be selling the preseason expectations short.

As a sixth-year senior with some of the Pirates' most historically significant wins under his belt, it seemed reasonable to believe Pinkney would elevate his level of play from game manager to playmaker. So far he has remained mostly the former, albeit with a few more costly misfires than what was characteristic of him before.

The victory over Memphis was in some ways a microcosm of Pinkney's season to date. Though it was hardly his poorest performance, he again struggled to connect on deep throws when ECU receivers were running freely behind the secondary.

Those are opportunities the Pirates simply can't afford to squander and expect to have any chance at beating opponents the caliber of Virginia Tech. And when Pinkney does hit receivers in stride — like he did twice with Dwayne Harris against Memphis — ECU's intended targets must do a better job of securing the ball.

That Pinkney delivered a perfectly-thrown strike to Darryl Freeney for a 31-yard score in the third quarter against Memphis at least provided some hope.

"I think the offense is starting to come into its own a little bit," Holtz said. "I'd certainly like to think that.

"Darryl Freeney stepping up the way he did (against Memphis) gives us another option and another weapon. He's one of those guys who can run. He's really starting to come into his own. You have Dwayne Harris on one side, and all of a sudden getting Darryl Freeney involved in the mix a little bit more gives you a guy with big play speed."

The Pirates must do a good job of utilizing that speed down the stretch. Ramming the ball through the heart of the Rice and Memphis defenses is one thing — doing it to a Bud Foster-coached defense of all-stars is another.

Foster is a smart coach who will design his plan around ECU's offensive tendencies. Combine that with the Pirates' victory over the Hokies last season and you can rest assured that a challenge will be issued to the Tech front seven to be more physical than ECU's offensive front.

The key to loosening up the Virginia Tech defense will likely come down to the Pirates’ ability to throw it. If Pinkney is unable to stretch the defense, the line of scrimmage could be come a Bermuda Triangle for ECU running backs.

At least Pinkney has proven his ability to carry that burden before. He'll have to successfully do it again for the Pirates to win Thursday night.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

11/02/2009 01:39 AM

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