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View from the 'ville
Thursday, September 13, 2007

By Al Myatt

Ficklen factor not fearsome for USM

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

According to the Sagarin ratings compiled by MIT graduate Jeff Sagarin and published by USA Today, the home field advantage is worth three points in college football.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.

The Southern Miss-East Carolina football series is one that defies logic in terms of the benefits of playing at home. Southern Miss leads the overall series 24-8 but it's winning percentage in Greenville is even more pronounced.

The Golden Eagles are 14-2 against the Pirates on the road. Southern Miss has won the last six games played at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, including a 33-7 conquest in its last visit on Oct. 1, 2005, in Skip Holtz's first season as head coach at ECU.

"Greg Hudson (Pirates defensive coordinator) said this is like playing the Yankees," Holtz said. "They've been the best team in the league the last couple of years coming in here. I'm sure they're going to be extremely motivated."

ECU won 20-17 in overtime last season in Hattiesburg as Ben Hartman's 19-yard field goal provided the winning margin and Travis Williams sealed the outcome with an interception in the end zone.

That outcome gave the Pirates three times as many wins on the road in the series as they have at home against the Golden Eagles.

"We had an opportunity to win last year down at their place and I'm sure they'll come in fired up and remembering that," Holtz said.

The teams come in to Saturday's 6 p.m. kickoff from contrasting emotional experiences. ECU edged regional rival North Carolina 34-31 on Hartman's game-ending 39-yard field goal. Southern Miss played a competitive first half at No. 24 Tennessee on Saturday night before the Volunteers pulled away to a 39-19 win.

ECU will have to avoid a letdown while Southern Miss will be focused on regrouping and eliminating the mistakes that negated its opportunity for an upset at Tennessee.

The announcement on Wednesday that the Southern Miss game was sold out was good news with respect to a fan survey that was flashed on the video display during the UNC-Chapel Hill game. Pirate fans were asked what game remaining on the home schedule they were most excited to see and 90 percent responded N.C. State. Only six percent said Southern Miss and four percent said Central Florida.

The fans may have the greatest anticipation of the Wolfpack but at least they won't be staying home for ECU's Conference USA opener.

One factor that seems to work in the Golden Eagles' favor in regard to their games in Greenville is that there is little awe or intimidation generated by the setting. Southern Miss just played before 106,311 in Knoxville so 43,000 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium may not have the impact that it appears to have on some teams.

Defensive dichotomy

ECU's rush defense has been superb so far and ranks No. 19 nationally among 119 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division I-A. The Pirates have allowed an average of just 56 yards on the ground in two games.

The pass defense has not been nearly as effective.

The Pirates have yielded an average of 294.5 yards per game through the air, which ranks them 103rd. Still, Holtz thought he saw some progress against North Carolina although Tar Heels freshman quarterback T.J. Yates completed 20 of 32 for 344 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

Holtz said he was concerned going into last Saturday's game because of how well the Tar Heels executed against James Madison the previous week.

"We didn't have anybody running scot free except on the one out and up," Holtz said in comparison to the Pirates' 17-7 loss at Virginia Tech in which there were several costly coverage breakdowns. "(Yates) threw some balls down the field for some deep balls. I'm telling you I think the way they executed — the deep ball throws that he made. They were right there.

"He's got half a step and they dropped it right in the pocket. There are some things that we're going to have to look at, we're going to have to improve on and get better."

Yates had scoring passes covering 37, 39 and 51 yards as the ECU secondary was susceptible to the big play.

"The other deep ball, they got us on an out and up," Holtz said. "They double-moved us and we bit over there on the corner. Travis (Williams) bit on the corner and they got us but I think it was as much their execution as anything.

"Now last week (at Virginia Tech), last week was us. At least we made 'em make the throws this week and he made 'em. I give North Carolina a lot of credit. They did a heckuva job. They threw some really nice deep balls. We'll look at the film and see where we are but we've got to get better.

"Whatever we gave up throwing the ball was too much."

Beneficial win

Pirate Club Executive Director Mark Wharton presented a check for $3,425,000 to ECU Athletic Director Terry Holland at halftime last Saturday, a record for yearly fund-raising from the athletic support organization.

The win over the Heels will surely have a favorable effect on donations to the Pirate Club this year. It has been documented that levels of giving increase when the football team is successful. ECU memorabilia sales can be expected to pick up as well.

"We've already seen some direct enthusiasm coming out of Saturday night," Wharton said. "If we beat (N.C.) State (Oct. 20), no matter what happens in between, it's going to translate successfully."

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09/13/2007 03:55:27 AM


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