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View from the 'ville
Thursday, October 21, 2010

By Al Myatt

Pirates preparing to avoid trap

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina's football program and fan base experienced an emotional high with a 33-27 overtime win over N.C. State last week. With the Pirates intent on defending their status as two-time Conference USA champions, an Oct. 30 game at Central Florida has been looming since the preseason as a showdown with East Division title implications.

Before ECU can focus on the Knights, there is a homecoming matchup with Marshall this Saturday at 4:15 p.m. It is the essence of what is referred to as a trap game.

The Thundering Herd have a deceptive 1-5 overall record that includes a loss at former No. 1 Ohio State and an overtime setback to in-state rival West Virginia, 24-21. Marshall coach Doc Holliday, a former N.C. State assistant in the Chuck Amato coaching era, has had extra time to get his team ready for the game since a 35-14 loss at home to UCF on Wednesday, Oct. 13.

You can believe that ECU coach Ruffin McNeill has been around long enough to know that the Pirates are sailing in some potentially-dangerous seas. You can also believe McNeill and his associates in the coaches offices are doing everything they can to counteract the perils of a letdown this week.

"There are a lot of scenarios being presented," McNeill said. "I think the trap comes if, one, you're not aware of it and, two, if you try to lie and say it's not a trap."

McNeill isn't downplaying the tidal wave of emotion that swept over Dowdy-Ficklen last Saturday as true freshman Damon Magazu picked off State's Russell Wilson to end the game.

"It was an emotional win," McNeill said. "The crowd was emotional. Greenville was emotional."

The trap concept is not a media invention, according to the ECU coach.

"Every game we play each week is the biggest game of the year, because it's the only game," McNeill said. "It's the only game we can play that week and that's the approach we've taken."

The 24-hour rule that McNeill imposes after every game gives his players a finite time limit to get past the previous contest. The Pirates met Sunday night after the win over the Wolfpack to begin directing their attention to Marshall. One problem there: The pats on the back for the dramatic victory haven't stopped.

"The players know about the 24-hour rule but they're on campus," McNeill said. "I know if I'm still getting congratulatory remarks, I know they are. It's going to be hard to tell people not to congratulate them. I'm not even going to try to do that. My job started Sunday night and that's making sure we get back geared toward the next opponent, which is Marshall. We dove into them on Sunday."

McNeill thought the Pirates had a good practice on Tuesday and anticipated a good workout on Wednesday. Tuesday and Wednesday are the heavy work days during the typical practice week.

"Tuesday is usually the big introduction for the opponent," McNeill said.

"We'll keep fighting it, and focusing on the little things," said the Pirates coach of the trap threat. "I'm not worried about Central Florida or the showdown thing. I'm worried about making sure that the team improves on fundamentals and technique. I'm worried about improvement on routine plays, execution of our offense, defense and special teams. I'm really anxious to see the team concept continue to build."

Historic trends

ECU had a strong tradition in its favor going into the game with the Wolfpack. The Pirates had never lost the following week after a win over Southern Miss. In its 10 series wins against the Golden Eagles, ECU has lost its next game only once. After topping Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, 10-6, to conclude the 1983 season, the Pirates lost their 1984 season opener at Florida State by a score of 48-17.

ECU has had a winning season every time it has topped Southern Miss.

The Pirates have not fared as well in games after recent wins over N.C. State. Although ECU is 6-4 against the Wolfpack over their last 10 meetings going back to 1987, the Pirates have lost five in a row after beating State. ECU has not won its next game after a win over their rivals from Raleigh since topping Southwest Texas State 27-16 in Greenville back in 1985.

In 1987, the Pirates opened the season with a 32-14 road win over the Wolfpack and hosted Florida State the next week, a game the Seminoles won, 44-3.

The next game following a victory over the Pack has spanned the offseason twice. After completing the 1991 campaign with a 37-34 win over State in the Peach Bowl, ECU opened the 1992 season at home against Syracuse and lost, 42-21, in Steve Logan's first game as head coach.

The Pirates finished the 1996 season with a 50-29 win over the Wolfpack in Charlotte as Scott Harley ran for 351 yards. ECU opened the 1997 season with a 24-17 loss at West Virginia. After topping State 23-6 in the Pack's first trip to Greenville in 1999, the Pirates were downed 28-14 by a Texas Christian team that featured LaDainian Tomlinson in the Mobile Bowl. ECU also followed a regular-season ending win over the Pack in the Capital City in 2006 with a bowl loss to South Florida.

Worth noting in regard to the string of five straight ECU setbacks following a Pirates win against State is the location of the next game and the caliber of competition. Only once have the Pirates played the next game in Greenville and that was against national power Florida State in 1987. The quality of opponent after beating State has seldom put ECU in the favorite's role as all of the defeats have been against current BCS programs with good to great football tradition.

There is typically a lot of emotion expended against the Pack which can create the possibility of a subsequent letdown. The energy of rowdy Dowdy should be a good antidote to any lingering post-Pack flatness. McNeill will be happy to get another helping of home cooking as the Pirates seek to snap their streak of struggles after success against State and up their C-USA record to 4-0 in the process.

"I love our crowd," McNeill said. "That atmosphere on Saturday was big time. It was there the first game versus Tulsa and the second game versus Memphis. I'm expecting it to be the same way on Saturday from our fans. I know they are, too. That is a definite advantage. ... Our fans and support are second to none. It's a big time atmosphere and our fan support will be much-needed on Saturday against Marshall."

ECU, 4-2 overall this season, will be going for its tenth straight C-USA win as the Pirates play their 100th C-USA game. ECU is 59-40 in those league games.

Recovering personnel

McNeill expects defensive end Marke Powell to be available again after missing the State game with flu-like symptoms during game week. Defensive back Dekota Marshall is still out with a right leg ailment but the prognosis is better for defensive tackle Josh Smith (neck) and offensive tackle Willie Smith (left ankle). Linebacker Cliff Perryman is projected to return from a hand injury.

"Josh got banged up and Josh plays in a position that's like a boxing match," McNeill said. "He gets beat up. I'm hoping Josh is back. He's got his strength back. We need him on Saturday. He's a tough, old piece of leather. I'm hoping he and Willie will be back. I'm praying they will."

ECU director of media relations Tom McClellan reported Wednesday night that McNeill had indicated that both Smiths had significant involvement in practice on Wednesday. That's a good indication that they will be cleared to play on Saturday.

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10/21/2010 02:31 AM


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