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View from the 'ville
Thursday, October 7, 2010

By Al Myatt

Trip to Hattiesburg no Holliday

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Southern Miss rolled past Marshall 41-16 last week before turning its attention to a Conference USA showdown in Hattiesburg this Saturday night with East Carolina. The Golden Eagles rolled out to a 28-0 lead at the half, limiting the Thundering Herd to just 46 yards of offense on 23 snaps in the first 30 minutes.

It wasn't what first-year Marshall coach Doc Holliday wanted to see. A candidate for the head coaching position at ECU after the 2002 season, Holliday shared some words of warning for the Pirates.

"Larry (Fedora, third-year Southern Miss coach) has done a great job recruiting," Holliday said. "They've got some athletes on that field now. We've been through a pretty tough schedule ourselves with Ohio State and West Virginia and some good football teams. Southern Miss is really a talented team. They're extremely physical. They can run like crazy. There's a lot of speed running around out there on that field."

Capacity at Roberts Stadium is now 36,000, and being prepared to face a high level of urgency on the turf of Carlisle-Faulkner Field is a key.

"You've got to go in that place and match their intensity," Holliday said. "Hopefully, you can match up with them athletically. We had a hard time doing that the other night."

Junior quarterback Austin Davis of Southern Miss accounted for four touchdowns against Marshall — three rushing and one passing. Davis missed last year's matchup with ECU, a 25-20 Pirates win in Greenville. He had sustained a season-ending foot injury in a 30-17 loss at UAB.

"The big issue we had with them offensively is that their quarterback makes great decisions," Holliday said. "He manages the game. Larry does a great job with that tempo. They try to get that defense on their heels. They've got an Indy tempo. They've got a Jet tempo. They check at the line. They do a lot of different things. They create a lot of issues defensively. You've got to get your cleats in the ground and go play.

"They don't substitute a lot. At times, they've got some different personnel going in but when they don't substitute, it means you don't have a chance to substitute. If they get you on your heels, you've got some issues."

The Golden Eagles (4-1, 1-0 C-USA) returned nine starters on defense.

"They're very aggressive and athletic," Holliday said. "They roll about nine defensive linemen in there. They're all very physical. They've got four starters back up front and they've got the linebacking crew intact. ... They do a great job stopping the run. They roll guys in and out. They keep fresh guys in there. They're a handful. They get after it. They play extremely hard and they tackle well."

Pirates looking for better finish

ECU is 3-0-1 in the first half this season. It's the last 30 minutes that have presented problems for the Pirates (2-2, 2-0). Last week in Chapel Hill, North Carolina cranked up its running game after intermission for a 42-17 victory.

"Assignment focus" is the phrase that ECU coach Ruffin McNeill is using to describe the late fades that have plagued the Pirates at Virginia Tech and in Chapel Hill.

"The first thing you think is what kind of adjustments do your opponents make?" McNeill said. "Well, there were none. If anything, they simplified what they were doing in the first half ... where they're execution level went up. In the second half, we had some penalties that corralled us a little bit offensively. We'll work not only on the execution of the basic things, fundamentals and technique, but some execution even within the plays that we can improve on that we've done in the first half but not the second half.

"We have to just keep working. It's not something that we can magically get them to do. It's going to come through game experience. You hate to have to lose to do it. Hate is probably a kind word. It really kills you and eats you."

Still, Ruff saw some positive signs in the matchup with the Tar Heels.

"We played about 42 minutes of really consistent football defensively," said the Pirates coach. "It was 21-17 until about 21 seconds left in the third quarter and seven of those 21 came off a pick six. You saw some improvement there. The fourth quarter, we wore down."

Southern Miss is another program that McNeill remembers from his playing days as a Pirate defensive back from 1976 to1979.

"They were always tough, hard-hitting, competitive games," McNeill said. "They always had a group of young men who were physically gifted with athleticism. I always thought they were well coached. When I played them Coach (Bobby) Collins was down there. (Former) Coach (Jeff) Bowers and I played against each other before. It always stood out that they had really tough, hard-nosed football players, who loved playing the game.

"They had a great fan base and backing, just like we do here at East Carolina, that really supports their team with a passion."

McNeill confirmed that defensive end Justin Dixon had been lost for the season with a knee injury sustained in the North Carolina game.

The Pirates coach feels there are lessons to be learned from the last two road trips as ECU prepares to travel for the third straight game.

"We need to learn how to finish," McNeill said. "Playing away from home was a learning experience. We were playing two teams that really had their backs against the wall. Virginia Tech, 0-2, and Carolina, at the time 1-2, who really had some adversity going on (with an NCAA investigation). We were facing that kind of opponent who really gave you their best shot and both teams did.

"I think it prepares us for our conference because our conference will be the same competitive environment that we just faced away from home and at home. It taught us to make sure we have great assignment focus the entire game. ... That comes through game experience. As a coach you have to be patient and know it's going to happen. We've got to keep pushing 'em and working 'em and keep making sure they realize, 'Hey, this is what you've got to do.' (We'll work) on making those corrections.

"The last thing is just make sure we stay upbeat and learn how to play the next play. With young players, if they make a mistake they get disappointed. You have to bring 'em up and say, 'It's okay, you play the next play.' Those things we found out in those games that I think will be very beneficial to us."

Fedora talks about payback factor

ECU's win against Southern Miss in Greenville last year put the Pirates in the C-USA championship game. The Golden Eagles haven't forgotten the circumstances of that rare road loss to ECU. Southern Miss leads the series, 26-9. The Pirates are 6-12 in Hattiesburg but only 3-14 in Greenville.

"Our guys believed last year that we were going to go in there and win that football game last year and win the (C-USA) East (Division)," Fedora said. "We felt we made some critical errors in the game. We put the ball on the ground going in, inside the five. We had an extra point blocked as we were going ahead. Our kids feel like we did a poor job when we went in there last year. We felt like we were as good a team as they were.

"Unfortunately for us, (former ECU coach) Skip (Holtz) and them made the plays that needed to be made, so our guys are anxious to go at it with East Carolina again. We know they're going to be a very good football team and we're just very excited about getting an opportunity to play them."

Fedora is in his third year at Southern Miss, having replaced Jeff Bower after the 2007 season. Fedora knows there are a lot of factors involved during a coaching transition, such as the one ECU is currently experiencing.

"One of the toughest things is getting the entire organization — from the secretaries to the custodial staff to sports information to you name it and the players — and getting everybody on the same page and making everybody understand that things are going to be different," said the Golden Eagles coach. "I mean they're just going to be different. Nobody can coach exactly like someone else and until everybody gets on that same page, there's always going to be a splintering and fracturing and problems.

"I think it takes some time. There's a learning curve involved for not only players but everybody in the organization and until everyone is pulling in the same direction you're going to have problems."

There are adjustments for opponents as well following a coaching transition.

"Offensively, obviously, they're very different from what they were in the past," Fedora said of the Pirates. "It's more the Texas Tech style offense. They're going to throw it around quite a bit, spread it out. They're moving the ball tempo-wise. It's quite a contrast there.

"We always felt they were more of a run, play-action, control the clock, don't make mistakes when Skip was there. They did a great job with that and they won with defense. They had great defensive players the last couple of years. This year, it's a little bit different scheme-wise. It's a little bit more of what Ruffin was doing (at Texas Tech) but I think Brian Mitchell has added his own taste to it so it's an interesting concept."

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10/07/2010 02:11 AM


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