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Keys to the Game
Saturday, December 5, 2009

By Kevin Monroe

ECU vs. Houston
Conference USA Championship
Saturday, Dec. 5, 2009, 12 pm
Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium

For the fourth straight year, Kevin Monroe, color analyst for the Pirate ISP Sports Radio Network, provides “Kevin’s Keys to The Game,” his weekly breakdown of what East Carolina must do to beat its upcoming opponent. Monroe brings a unique perspective to the task as a member of the broadcast team and as a former star defensive back for the Pirates (1995-99).

All Rights Reserved.

East Carolina can defeat Houston if it accomplishes these key objectives:

  1. Bring Pressure

    Houston has one of the best offenses in the country. The Cougars are averaging more than 440 passing yards and over 44 points per game. East Carolina’s front four started slow this season but have been playing well of late. Over the last three weeks, the quarterbacks of Tulsa, UAB and Southern Miss have struggled to find enough time to find open receivers down field. Defensive ends Scotty Robinson and C.J. Wilson and linemen Jay Ross and Linval Joseph have shown up big. Houston quarterback Case Keenum runs a rhythm offense. All of the Cougar passing routes are based on timing and being in sync. Through 12 games, Keenum has thrown for 5,323 yards and 41 touchdowns. A constant pass rush from ECU's defensive front and an occasional blitz from the linebackers or defensive backs will be the only way to disrupt that rhythm.

  2. Defend the Backend

    Keenum presents a potent challenge to East Carolina's defensive backfield, but he doesn't do it by himself. He has a large corps of dangerous wideouts to choose from. The Cougars have 11 receivers with at least 10 receptions, led by James Cleveland with 82 catches and 11 touchdowns. The Pirate secondary is relatively young at the corner spots, but junior Travis Simmons and sophomore Emanuel Davis are both two-year starters who have played well. At safety, ECU starts a pair of savvy seniors, Levin Neal and Van Eskeridge. The majority of the group has extensive game experience. Each of them will need to have a short memory on Saturday and rely on his coaching and technique. This game will separate the men from the boys in the secondary.

  3. Attack on Offense

    The most effective way to slow down an offense as proficient as Houston's is to keep it off the field. With that in mind, East Carolina will need to dominate time of possession. That starts with backs Dominique Lindsay and Giavanni Ruffin and the running game. Running the football and keeping the chains and the clock moving is the best antidote to an opposing prolific offense. East Carolina quarterback Patrick Pinkney will have to lead this ECU offense on solid, sustained drives. Pinkney has been on the mark in his passing game over the last three weeks, and that type of effectiveness will be vital against the Cougars. This Houston defense has struggled, giving up 445 yards of offense and 28 points per game. Both Tulsa and Southern Miss recently scored over 40 points on the Cougars.

The Bottom Line

East Carolina needs outstanding efforts from both its offensive and defensive units to repeat as champion of Conference USA. The 18th-ranked Cougars will be favored and are picked by most pundits to represent the league in the Liberty Bowl. The silver lining in these prognostications is that the Pirates have always welcomed the underdog role.

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12/04/2009 01:53:14 AM


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