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View from the 'ville
Thursday, October 26, 2006

By Al Myatt

Holtz: Pirates must learn to win in stride

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Just minutes after last Saturday's 38-21 win over Southern Methodist, East Carolina coach Skip Holtz was wondering how to avoid a letdown this week like the one that occurred against Tulsa following ECU's win over Virginia.

"I think we got to get madder at (the players) after a win," Holtz said. "I think that's what we gotta do."

He was only partly joking.

"The biggest obstacle we have to overcome in getting this program over the hump is we've got to learn how to handle winning," said the Pirates coach. "Learning how to handle winning is harder than it is to build it."

The Pirates, 3-4 overall and 2-2 in Conference USA going into a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Southern Miss on Saturday night, are obviously in the building process.

"When you build it, you get a group of guys who are hungry and committed and determined to turn and get this thing over the hump," Holtz said. "The hard part is to maintain that hunger when you're winning and everybody is patting you on the back, telling you, 'Great job, great job.' "

The Pirates obviously didn't handle success against the Cavaliers very well when Tulsa came to Greenville the following week.

"Here we come off one of the biggest wins in the last four or five years beating Virginia right out here at home and come back with probably our worst performance as a team against Tulsa," Holtz said. "When these players stay focused and hungry, they've got a chance to be a pretty good football team."

Adding to the challenge of maintaining focus and avoiding a letdown in the aftermath of the triumph over the Mustangs is the fact that the Pirates must leave the comfort zone of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium after a 6-week stay to face a program that has historically held dominance over ECU.

Southern Miss leads the series with the Pirates, 23-7, and has won nine of the last 10. The good news for ECU is that this game is in Hattiesburg, where the Pirates are 5-11 all time. Southern Miss is 12-2 in Greenville, site of last season's 33-7 win over the ECU in which the Golden Eagles were boosted by five Pirate turnovers.

ECU's last win in the series came on a rainy day in 2000 by a 14-9 margin at M.M. Roberts Stadium. The Pirates officially accepted a bid to the Bowl in Houston following that game.

Holtz's second-year ECU team has had some time to grow and mature since it last boarded an airplane.

"We haven't been on the road since the first two games," he said. "When we went on the road the first two games we played with a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. All of a sudden, those guys are playing for the first time. It's going to be nice to take these guys on the road after they have a lot of experience under their belt."

Well, maybe not as nice as running out of the Murphy Center.

"If we had the opportunity to play the last five at home, I would," Holtz said with a laugh. "I mean I would. Unfortunately, we don't have that luxury. The great part about this schedule is the middle of it. I hated it the first part of the year.

"We had to take a very inexperienced team with a lot of young players that had never played for the first two games on the road. And now we've got to finish four of the last five on the road. From a homestand standpoint, it was nice to be here.

"It's always hard to go play on the road — the travel and everything else that goes into it, but we've got to go do it so we're looking forward to it."

Southern Miss was a much different team in last week's 36-6 loss at Virginia Tech than in a 37-17 win over N.C. State at home on September 16. The Golden Eagles were without true freshman sensation Damion Fletcher last week. Fletcher ran for 177 yards on 28 carries against the Wolfpack but missed the matchup with the Hokies due to knee surgery.

Fletcher returned to practice this week and said he was "80 percent" on Tuesday, according to a Jackson Clarion-Ledger report. He expressed hope of playing against the Pirates.

Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower said an evaluation would determine the extent of Fletcher's involvement this week.

"He's been running up and down the field," Holtz said. "He's a very difficult player to bring down. He's slippery, elusive and a good open field runner. Their line is big and strong and they try to power you. Early on those 3-yard gains become 4-yard gains and 5-yard gains as the game progresses."

ECU's defense must also deal with Southern Miss sophomore tight end Shawn Nelson, whose 33-yard touchdown reception with nine seconds left in the first half gave the Golden Eagles a 20-7 lead last season.

"He's big, athletic and fast," Holtz said of Nelson. "He's the real deal. I don't know that anyone has an answer for him with the way they pound the ball and then go into the play-action and give it to some athletes out in the open."

ECU has to close some ground just to be competitive with the Golden Eagles based on recent results.

"Southern Miss has beaten us by a combined score of 84-17 over the past two seasons," Holtz said. "They beat us 51-10 at their place two years ago and they beat us last year here 33-7. We understand the challenge we have in front of us.

"Southern Miss is a very physical football team. They have been the beast of the East. They have dominated the Eastern Division and Coach Bower has done a great job of building that program.

"They have built it from an offensive standpoint of being able to run the ball with big offensive linemen and being physical.

"On defense they are scattered. You never know where they are going to line up. It may be seven guys standing on the line of scrimmage or guys jumping around. They make a lot of things happen on defense. It's going to be a challenge for some of our younger offensive linemen."

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02/23/2007 12:30:49 AM


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