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Henry's Highlights
Monday, October 31, 2005

By Henry Hinton

Progress comes in painful steps


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On the TV news clips after Saturday's loss to Central Florida, Skip Holtz had a different look on his face. Disappointment, concern, even a little frustration.

It seems Holtz has entered a new phase in his journey as head coach of the East Carolina football program.

It is a phase that begins when expectations increase.

The Pirates, it can be argued, were beaten by an inferior team on Saturday. In fact, ECU has lost two in a row to teams that it certainly could have and possibly should have beaten.

Now Holtz and his staff have to coach up the players to believe they can go on the road and defeat Tulsa — another team in the top echelon of Conference USA. He will have two weeks to prepare for that tough challenge, since the upcoming weekend provides an open date.

Most observers believed ECU could have a winning season with a win over UCF. Now the Pirates must win all three remaining games to be considered for a post-season appearance. Again, all three games — including the November 12 matchup with Tulsa — appear winnable, but the margin for error is thin.

Speaking of errors, the turnover bug has been a huge problem. It literally cost the Pirates the game on Saturday and made a big difference in the Southern Miss game, a contest that may have been close otherwise.

In the next two weeks Holtz and staff will be working on finding a way to keep the running game going. It seemed they may have found the answer in the second half against UCF when Brandon Fractious finally came alive.

Fractious, who has awaited his turn behind Chris Johnson, seemed to be quicker to the hole and showed great instincts when the left side of the ECU line found a soft spot in the Golden Knights defense.

Unfortunately, Fractious’ fumble problems returned at a most inopportune moment, just as the Pirates were turning it around. It will be interesting to see how Holtz and running backs coach Junior Smith deal with that situation leading to the Tulsa game.

The frustration in Holtz’s furrowed brow may well be coming from the fact that the coaching staff has put ECU in position to win at several points this season but come up short due to untimely mistakes.

Making a change in punt returners after the first quarter special teams blunder inside the five yard line was a clear message to the team and everyone in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium that enough is enough. It is too late in the season for those kind of errors.

Every coach in America teaches returners not to try and field a ball that deep with their heels near the end zone. At some point the student must respond.

Pirate fans should join Holtz and his staff in their frustrations, yet recognize that this team has been in a position to win nearly every week. That is a change from the previous two seasons.

In assessing where the program is at this point, it should be apparent to fans that Holtz and his staff have made great progress even though the win-loss record is not as positive as it could be.

The stage is set for better things to come.

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04/21/2008 07:02:59 PM

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