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College Sports in the Carolinas


View from the East
Monday, September 22, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

League's CEO's touch base on realignment matters


Shelton at Conference USA meeting

East Carolina interim chancellor Bill Shelton was in Chicago on Sunday for a board of directors meeting of Conference USA. Shelton said no action was taken regarding institutions leaving or joining the league.

“We discussed some scenarios but our intent was to be as expeditious as possible in continuing to be as strong a conference as possible,” Shelton said. “No decisions were made as far as any members leaving the league or on any new members joining.”

Louisville and Cincinnati aligning with the Big East football-playing schools has been widely speculated. There are also reports that C-USA could lose Marquette and DePaul to the Big East as well as Charlotte and Saint Louis to the Atlantic 10.

“I acknowledge that there has been a great deal of speculation, but we have not been formally notified of any changes,” Shelton said.

Pirates progressing

Prolonged losing can create frustration that tends to obscure the progress being made by East Carolina’s football team. The Pirates, who lost 34-16 at Wake Forest on Saturday night, are significantly improved from the group which was overrun 40-3 at Cincinnati just 19 days earlier.

First downs show development under first-year head coach John Thompson. ECU trailed 24-8 in that statistical category against the Bearcats but led 23-18 at Wake Forest.

Remember, this team consists of a group of players who weren’t recruited by the present coaching staff. ECU has been faced with players learning coaches and new systems. The coaching staff has dealt with a mammoth task of evaluating personnel and trying to get the talent to perform effectively as units within new schemes.

“East Carolina is a much improved football team,” said Deacons coach Jim Grobe, who has faced the Pirates at Ohio and Wake, and had seen ECU’s earlier games via television and tape. “They’re doing some really good things on both sides of the ball. We played not only a talented football team tonight, but one that’s gotten much better. They’re much more comfortable with their schemes right now.

“John Thompson has done a good job. They’re going to win a lot of football games. We’ve played four real tough football teams right now. That team we played tonight played their hearts out. It was a shame somebody had to lose that one because both sides really played with a lot of enthusiasm.”

Coaches such as Ron Zook of Florida, Jeff Bower of Southern Miss and Rich Rodriguez of West Virginia have been in touch with Thompson to offer their encouragement during the Pirates tortuous start. Grobe spoke to the ECU team in the dressing room after the game on Saturday night.

“He told us we were the best 0-3 team that he had ever seen,” said ECU senior fullback Vonta Leach. “He told us he was impressed that we had come in and gone after them. He said to keep working and things would turn around.”

A more favorable turnover margin will help the Pirates get things turned around. ECU had five turnovers with some predictably dire consequences against Wake while getting just one from the Deacons. The Pirates have 16 turnovers for the season compared to five for their opponents.

“It’s an easy story when you look at it from what we did,” Thompson said. “We did some good things, but when you turn the ball over and turnovers equal touchdowns ... you’re not going to win like that.”

Schedule provides a break

The schedule hasn’t helped ECU. The Pirates led off with four games against teams that all went to bowls last season — Cincinnati, West Virginia, No. 2 Miami and Wake Forest. It’s probably the toughest opening schedule since ECU faced N.C. State, West Virginia, Auburn and Penn State in its first four games in 1986, which happens to be the last time the Pirates started a season 0-4.

Losing Art Brown, who ran for 1,029 yards last season, was obviously a big blow.

Next up is Houston, off to a 3-1 start with a 42-35 win over struggling Mississippi State on Saturday night. The schedule gives the Pirates a restful respite and ample time to prepare. ECU had a dramatic 54-48 win over the Cougars last season with Brown’s 25-yard scoring run in the third overtime accounting for the winning margin.

“We’re going to take a couple of days off,” Thompson said. “We’ll take (Sunday) off. We’ll take Monday off. We have a junior varsity game against Fork Union on Tuesday. ... It’s a time to get better. We’ll take a couple of days off, and then we have a long week to get ready. We’re going to work. We’ve got a schedule where we start back on Tuesday practicing and we’ll take it right up to Houston.

“We’ve got to get better. It’s not a situation where we’re going to just go in there and drive them and beat them down, but it’s a situation where we’re going to get better.”

There’s additional time to prepare for North Carolina, which makes its first trip to Greenville. ECU has 10 more days between the Cougars’ visit (ESPN 2) and the Tar Heels’ arrival for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff
(WITN-7) on Saturday, Oct. 11. UNC will not have the same luxury of extra preparation time before playing at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The Tar Heels face N.C. State in Raleigh this Saturday and return home to face Virginia on Oct. 4.

The schedule may give the Pirates a break in October. It’s about time.


How the teams in the Carolinas stack up through games of Sunday, Sept. 21:

1. South Carolina (3-1) ... Gamecocks roll past UAB, 42-10.
2. Clemson (3-1) ... Tigers whip Georgia Tech 39-3 on the road.
3. Wake Forest (3-1) ... Deacons turn ECU turnovers into a 34-16 win.
4. N.C. State (2-2) ... Wolfpack blunts Texas Tech in the red zone.
5. Duke (2-2) ... Devils take a step back with loss to Northwestern.
6. North Carolina (0-3) ... Wisconsin hands Heels a 38-27 setback.
7. East Carolina (0-4) ... Pirates making progress but turnovers costly.

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02/23/2007 12:41:42 AM

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