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Insights and Observations

Henry's Highlights
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

By Henry Hinton

For ECU, it's a needed week to turn inward

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There is no must-win game this week for East Carolina, but it well could be the most important week in the entire schedule for the Pirates.

Coaches never like to go into an extended break with the downward momentum of a loss. For Coach Skip Holtz and his young Pirate team, this off week could not have come at a better time.

Never mind the health of the Pirates. Clearly, time away from the rigors of a game week will do a lot for the players that are banged up. This open week can provide ECU the necessary time to heal its hurting offense. Forecast as the strength of the team coming into this season, the Pirate offense has proven to have spotty success at best through four games.

The day before the 27-10 loss to West Virginia, Coach Holtz said in an interview on Talk 1070's and Cable 7’s Talk of the Town that he likes the idea of an early season open date for a young football team. Coach Holtz feels like this week will allow the Pirates to work on themselves rather than work on an opponent.

“I’m glad we’ve got the open date,” Holtz said. “It gives us a chance to get (the offense) straight. It gives us a chance to go out there and put the pads on and go back to basics and fundamentals and figure out our problems.

“We’ve got to get a running game going and we’ve got to develop our offensive line and our running backs. That’s an aspect of our football team that is our Achilles heel.”

It’s not totally back to the drawing board for ECU on offense this week. The Pirates have had flashes of offensive brilliance.

Quarterback James Pinkney’s efficient 24-for-35, season-high 283 yard passing day to open the season at Navy comes to mind. As does Aundrae Allison’s nine-catch outing against Memphis and Chris Johnson’s two touchdowns and 106 yards rushing against those same Tigers.

Receiver Phillip Henry and tight end Davon Drew have led East Carolina in receptions in a game this season. Veterans Kevin Roach and Bobby Good have performed in a solid manner through the first third of the season. In all, a pass has been caught by 11 different Pirate players so far.

Inconsistency in the red zone, the 20 yards East Carolina once dominated in years gone by, has become a wasteland of offensive irritation for this Pirate offense. A lot of the reason for this irregularity is the team's inability to run the football close to the goal line.

"I'll take the blame, I’m not throwing anyone under the bus here,” Holtz said. “I’ve got to do a better job with the running game.”

Injuries haven’t helped the effort. Johnson's turf toe and Dominique Lindsay’s MCL injury have depleted a once-deep stable of capable runners. Add to that an offensive line with a lot of newcomers learning on the job and you have ingredients for offensive troubles. Not being able to establish the run against West Virginia led to the Pirates having to rely on Pinkney’s arm to try to win the game.

"If we can’t start to get the running game going, we’re going to have to start winning 10-3,” Coach Holtz said after Saturday’s game. “Cause we’re not going to win many games (by) putting a quarterback back there and everyone knows he’s going to be back there and take the type of shots he’s taking. We can’t do it.”

Veteran News and Observer columnist Caulton Tudor wrote after the Memphis game that Pinkney, Allison and Johnson were the best in the state at their positions. They very likely are. But for whatever reason, save the final 30 minutes of football in the Memphis win, the entire offense hasn’t hit on all cylinders yet.

Blame it on injuries. Blame in on inexperience. Blame it on the schedule. Whatever that source of the blame, Coach Holtz and staff have committed to work out the kinks during this off week.

Different weeks during a football season are touted often as the most important week for a team. Usually those weeks revolve around a key opponent on the schedule or a must-win game. ECU’s most important week of their season is this week. What could be a fabulous finish to this year — or the continuation of offensive frustration — hinges on how the Pirates are able to work out the offensive kinks in this off week.

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This page updated 04/21/08 07:06 PM.

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