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Henry's Highlights
Monday, October 10, 2005

By Henry Hinton

Breakout season may ride on running game

Weekend of upsets sets stage for interesting league race


7:00-9:00 a.m.

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ECU 41, RICE 28

from Coach
Skip Holtz:


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If becoming a contender in Conference USA is the immediate goal, East Carolina should now have a measuring stick, having seen seen the top and bottom of the league in 8 days.

Saturday’s 41-28 win over Rice is certainly reason to celebrate, but the game also exposed the fact that the Pirates have a lot of work to do as they hit the road for two consecutive league games.

Meanwhile, league teams are really starting to knock each other around. (View C-USA standings and scoreboard.)

There are a lot of bright spots at ECU for sure. James Pinkney’s development at quarterback is giving the Pirates a chance. He does not look like a guy who missed spring practice.

In a Friday appearance on Talk 1070 and Cable 7’s Talk of the Town show (Go to audio archive.), head coach Skip Holtz said he is pleased with his quarterback’s progress. Asked how much of the offense Pinkney has grasped in spite of the late start, Holtz said the coaches have now installed nearly all of what they want to run. It showed Saturday night.

Through five games, Pinkney has completed over 61 per cent of his passes and — after an amazing 355-yard performance versus Rice — is now averaging 257 yards per game. He also has developed a knack for when to pull down the ball and run with it.

He was the top rusher against Rice with 38 yards. That brings us to the work that must be done. East Carolina had just 104 yards running the football, including those by Pinkney that were mostly scrambles.

Holtz warned early in the week that the Owls’ strength was in their defensive front four. Running back Chris Johnson was handed the ball 13 times and finished the evening with an embarrassing total of 3 yards.

ECU could get no yards with Johnson between the tackles, so they turned him into a receiver. He caught 6 passes for a game high 129 yards, including the game-breaking 81-yard touchdown reception that nailed the coffin shut on Rice. That performance as a receiver was positive but becoming one-dimensional will eventually catch up with any team.

East Carolina’s secret weapon, Aundrae Allison, is not much of a secret anymore. Double-A had another great night, catching 7 passes for 109 yards, including that spectacular 40-yard scoring haul just before halftime.

Other folks are beginning to contribute in the passing game, which will make Allison more available and the offense more dangerous.

For the most part, the Pirates also have good effort in their kicking game. Ryan Dougherty has been a little inconsistent kicking off and punting but improved as the evening wore on Saturday night.

Other than Pinkney and Allison, perhaps the most solid effort this season has been from place kicker Robert Lee. Lee has been perfect so far, kicking 8 of 8 field goals — including two versus Rice — and 13 straight extra points. His range has also been good and it is clear that Holtz is very confident when “the General” lines it up. Lee has accounted for 37 points in five games.

As ECU takes its 2-3 record on the road to challenge Southern Methodist and Memphis, it could be said the Pirates have won they games they should have and been fairly competitive in the three games in which they were considerable underdogs.

Except for a potential confidence boost, that will mean little as ECU heads to Dallas for this Saturday's 3 p.m. ET kickoff at SMU. The Mustangs are coming off an incredible last second 28-27 win over a 3-1 UAB team in Birmingham Saturday night.

With 3 seconds remaining on the clock, SMU quarterback Jerad Romo launched a 31-yard Hail Mary pass into the end zone and connected with wideout Bobby Chase for the victory.

Another future Pirate opponent, Tulsa, defeated Southern Miss handily Saturday in Hattiesburg, 34-17. Central Florida also got a huge 39-17 win over Memphis in Orlando. With that victory, George O’Leary’s team became one of just three teams in 55 years to win three in a row after a winless season.

So things do not become any easier. If anything, the league is beginning to look well balanced. Some of the teams that looked potentially vulnerable early on are winning some big games.

As for ECU, the running game will have to be better to compliment what has become a potent passing attack if it expects to win on the road.

The Pirates still have the potential to become the surprise story of the season if they continue to improve. Saturday’s game in Dallas is a huge opportunity to make that statement and set the stage for even higher stakes the following week in Memphis.

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04/21/2008 07:07:41 PM

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