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Insights and Observations

Henry's Highlights
Wednesday, October 11, 2006

By Henry Hinton

Role of Holtz & staff in win over Hoos understated

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Generally, I have agreed with most everything Skip Holtz has said as he has evaluated the East Carolina program in its journey through the current turnaround.

But what he said after the win over Virginia was pure hooey.

“Players win games, coaches don’t,” Holtz said in his post-game press conference.

It is just like Holtz to deflect the attention and credit for a great win to his players, but in this case I simply won’t have it.

The coaching job done by Holtz and his staff in preparing for the Cavaliers was nothing short of brilliant. It was even more impressive considering they had to account for several key injuries.

The continued improvement on the defensive side of the ball notwithstanding, the game ball should have gone to Holtz, offensive coordinator Steve Shankweiler, running backs coach Junior Smith and the entire offensive staff.

With two weeks to prepare, the staff took a “spring” mentality. In fact, the coaches made it clear that jobs were open on the offensive line and could be won or lost in those two weeks.

What resulted was a total reshuffling of the O-line. Matt Butler was moved from guard to center and true freshman Cory Dowless played in Butler’s place.

The move paid huge dividends as a running back tandem that was also a product of the search for a new formula gained 208 yards on the ground.

It was a bold move by Shankweiler, who made the decision to move Butler to center after watching him in practice.

“He came in as a long snapper in high school,” said Shankweiler. “I don’t think he had ever played center before. He will only get better. This is the position that he needs to play. He is much better at center than he ever was at guard.”

That means a freshman had to start at guard. That was a gutsy call by the coaches. Dowless, fresh off a stellar career at East Randolph High School, had played sparingly prior to Saturday night in just two games.

You have to find the right combination of people, motivate them and hopefully they’ll do well,” Shankweiler said. “This has happened several times in my career. Sometimes you have to just tweak and try things. I’m really tickled that we got it done with some guys who hadn’t played much at all.”

Just as impressive was the way the "Brandon Tandem" performed at running back. With injuries to Dominque Lindsay and Chris Johnson, the two Brandons (Fractious and Simmons) had to step up.

Step up they did.

Prior to the West Virginia game, Pirate fans had never even heard of Simmons, a walk-on who transferred from Elizabeth City State with only the hope of getting on the field in Greenville.

Simmons answered the bell with an impressive, courageous exhibition of tough running that included hitting linebackers head on and knocking them backwards, something no other Pirate running back has displayed this season.

Fractious had his best night as a Pirate. The fumble-itis that plagued him last season and earlier this year was a distant memory as he accounted for 102 of East Carolina’s total of 208 rushing yards.

James Pinkney also showed a side that Pirate fans always knew was there but had rarely seen. He pulled down the ball and ran for big yardage several times on misdirection plays and called quarterback carries. J.P. even ran the option and executed it well when Holtz called for it in the red zone a few times.

Those fresh facets of Pinkney's game, added to the continued improvement of his passing prowess, provided a well-rounded performance from the senior quarterback that was possibly his best ever.

Back to the coaching staff and the game plan: If you had watched East Carolina’s tendencies prior to the Virginia game, you probably would have been surprised at the Pirates' game plan for the Cavaliers.

It was not a totally new offense, but utilizing a fullback to block, catch and run the ball all night long was a wrinkle seldom seen in the Holtz era.

ECU also displayed a whole new look in obvious passing situations; instead of flooding the field with five receivers time and time again, the running backs would get into “max protect” formation in the backfield to provide added time for Pinkney to find his receivers.

The dangers created by the absence of Johnson at running back and Aundrae Allison at wide receiver were negated in this game because of this strategy.

Fans and critics are always quick to criticize coaches when things go wrong, so here’s to you, Coach Holtz and staff.

Here is something you don’t hear often enough: Job well done.

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This page updated 04/21/08 07:01 PM.

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