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Game No. 8: Va. Tech 16, ECU 3


Game Slants
Thursday, November 5, 2009

By Denny O'Brien

Offense fades in spotlight

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

GREENVILLE — East Carolina once was a fixture on Thursday night.

From 1992 through 2001, the Pirates were featured eight times in what has become one of the most coveted time slots to showcase a program nationally. It was almost an annual rite of passage for ECU.

Changes to the college football climate ultimately altered how television contracts were structured, and the Pirates were exiled from Thursday as a result. That it took eight years and a visit from Virginia Tech to shine the Thursday night lights back on Greenville is an indication of just how much the landscape has changed.

On this particular Thursday, ECU was presented with redeeming opportunities to prove it belonged on this stage and to restore hopes of a memorable season. A win against the 22nd-ranked Hokies would have accomplished both.

As far as games in Greenville go, this one had as much buzz as any. A new logo was painted at midfield. The Jolly Roger was stamped on the side of the Pirates’ helmets.

There were even grassroots efforts formed to outfit the fans in sold-out Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in different variations of Pirate garb.

But neither a Pirate-out nor Blackout were enough to shove the East Carolina offense into the end zone. Not even once. The way the ECU offense performed in a 16-3 loss, it might take ESPN eight more years to bring its cameras back on Thursday night.

It’s not like the Pirates didn’t have their chances, though. There were almost too many to count. It started when Dominique Lindsay sprinted 20 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter, only to have it nullified by a holding call.

That was punctuated one play later when tight end Rob Kass fumbled and deflated an opportunity to push the Pirates ahead.

That’s largely how things went for the Pirates offensively in the first half. Quarterback Patrick Pinkney routinely missed open receivers, and several plays that netted positive yardage were overturned by penalties.

Each time the Pirates seemed to gain some momentum, they found a way to extinguish it. That trend continued in the third quarter when the Pirates marched 46 yards to the Tech 18-yard line before Giavanni mishandled the handoff from Pinkney and the Hokies again recovered.

Things were hardly better on the occasions when the Pirates decided to pass in the second half. In fact they were worse. Pinkney completed only three of his 11 attempts after intermission for 30 yards and an interception.

“Unfortunately from a passing game standpoint, we weren’t on the same page tonight,” Pirates Coach Skip Holtz said after the game. “When you look at the number of times the ball went up in the air, the receivers weren’t looking. At times it was downright embarrassing.

”There were one-on-one opportunities. We had one opportunity, where early in the game they blew a coverage and left Dwayne Harris wide open on a corner route and we overthrew it.

"We’ve talked all along about our lack of big play ability. Overthrowing a guy when they blow a coverage and leave him open is a missed opportunity.”

That essentially summarized the whole evening for ECU. The Pirates were the Hokies’ equal physically, but they couldn’t get out of their own way anytime the offense was on the field.

In fact, it was the prevailing storyline in each of the Pirates’ previous three losses. Inefficiency in the passing game, turnovers in the red zone, and backbreaking penalties were the ECU offense’s undoing.

It also successfully eliminated any impact the capacity crowd had after intermission. The electricity in the stands flickered almost as fast as the sputtering ECU offense.

Now the task for ECU is to brush itself off and regain the steam it built in consecutive Conference USA victories preceding this offensive snoozer. The Pirates can’t afford to let the disappointment of the opportunity to steal some headlines derail their quest for another C-USA title.

“We’ve always had a mindset and an approach that we have 24 hours to celebrate a win and we get 24 hours to mourn a loss,” Holtz said. “When this one is over, it’s over. There isn’t an awful lot we can do about it.

“We still have an awful lot to play for. I certainly don’t think there is going to be so much air out of this team’s balloon that they are still not going to get excited about the conference championship race, which is one of the main things that we’ve talked about.”

If the ECU offense can’t routinely find the end zone against Tulsa, UAB, and Southern Miss, a conference title is not likely to be a part of the conversation. After a rock bottom performance against Virginia Tech, at least there is nowhere else for it to go but up.

But it will be an even steeper climb for ECU to find itself back in prime time on Thursday night.

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11/06/2009 04:11:47 AM

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