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East Carolina's game on
Saturday is a big one because itís the next trial in a stretch of
challenges that stand between the Pirates and their season goals.
The foe is
Conference USA West Division preseason favorite Tulsa, a team that
has not met expectations but which would relish finally putting it
all together to achieve some redemption at the expense of the East
problems have plagued the Golden Hurricane
this season, this is a talented team that is capable of beating the
Pirates and complicating their path to the league championship game.
An East Carolina
letdown in this game is not an option. If the Pirates execute
the following assignments, they should prevail:
Special teams play will be
a critical factor. There are three parts to the kicking game that have to be
sharp against every opponent: kicking, covering and returns. East Carolina
kicking specialist Warren Harvey has really struggled of late. He is 12-21
(57%) on the season on field goal attempts. In the last few games, Harvey
has had difficulty converting field goals in crucial situations. He is
hitting the ball well, but the kicks are not going through the uprights on a
consistent bases. He will have to be better this week and the rest of the
year if the Pirates want to play for the C-USA title.
The coverage teams
will also be important this week. Tulsa return man Trey Watts is one
of the nationís best. He is averaging 21.5 yards per kickoff return
and 7.2 yards per punt return. ECU must corral him to avoid being
hurt in the kickoff and punt coverage phases of the game.
From the opposite
perspective, the return game for the Pirates has been solid with
Lance Ray on kickoffs and Justin Hardy on punts. The duo will need
to have good games on Saturday.
WIN THE ADVANTAGE ON
Turnovers in all games are important, but that stat is even more magnified
in a conference game. Tulsa has thrown 10 interceptions and lost 12 fumbles
through eight games. Those giveaways have been a huge reason why the Golden
Hurricane has won only two games. The Pirates need to keep that trend going
and come up with 3 or more turnovers.
Defensively, Tulsa has picked off 9 passes and recovered 3 fumbles.
East Carolina must focus on protecting the football, and quarterback
Shane Carden will need to make good decisions throughout the game.
This is always one of my
favorite keys. It seems simple, but itís so important. East Carolina found
last week against Florida International
that getting dominated in time of possession and plays run is no fun.
Luckily, the ECU defense stepped up when it needed to and kept FIU out of
the end zone.
Pirates need to get back to what they do best, which is getting
first downs, eating up clock and moving the ball up and down the
field. Their third down conversion rate is over 50% for the season
and they have been averaging over 90 plays per game over the last
four outings. If ECU puts its foot on the accelerator on Saturday,
Tulsa will not be able to keep pace.
Coach Ruffin McNeill loves to talk about
four phases of the game ó offense, defense, special teams and sideline
support. This is a game that could sneak up on the Pirates if they are not
sharp in all four phases. If the enthusiasm level is high and the Pirates
take care of the ball, play well on special teams and keep the chains
moving, the result can be a decisive victory.
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