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View from the 'ville
Thursday, September 27, 2007

By Al Myatt

Holtz looks for boost from dual QB's

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Just over a month ago in the early morning hours of the last Saturday before East Carolina's 2007 football opener at Virginia Tech, Rob Kass' future took a detour.

The Pirate program had invested countless snaps in spring and preseason practices grooming the redshirt sophomore for the starting role at quarterback.

Then Kass encountered a DWI checkpoint and Greenville police reportedly measured his blood-alcohol content at 0.19, significantly above the legal limit of 0.08.

“There is an expectation of conduct associated with being a member of this football program,” said ECU coach Skip Holtz in announcing that Kass was suspended for the Hokies game. “I regret anytime we are put in a position to take disciplinary action, but we take the responsibility of representing East Carolina University seriously.”

The Pirates quickly went into an adjustment mode, bumping Brett Clay up on the depth chart into a starting role. Patrick Pinkney went from third team to back-up and ECU shifted freshman Dwayne Harris from receiver to quarterback. Clay was ineffectual in Blacksburg in the dropback passing scheme that ECU had developed with Kass in mind.

Pinkney stepped up and had some productive efforts in an adapted offense that allowed him to take advantage of his running ability. A junior from Fayetteville Pine Forest High, Pinkney made the most of the playing opportunity he had been waiting for so patiently against North Carolina as he completed 31 of 41 passes for 406 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

But Pinkney and the Pirates struggled mightily last week at No. 5 West Virginia and Kass saw his first action of the season in a mop-up role. He came in and threw three passes, completing two for 11 yards.

Holtz said in his press conference Monday that the Pirates might use multiple quarterbacks, with the contrasting styles of Kass and Pinkney likely to present preparation problems for opposing defenses.

"Patrick has had success getting on the perimeter and West Virginia did a good job of containing him," Holtz said. "In [West Virginia's] three-down line set, they did a good job of getting pressure on the edges to make Patrick throw out of a well and that is not his strength.

"We need to be able to play two quarterbacks, but Patrick has never needed confidence. I have never had to pump him up or get him to believe in himself. For example, after the North Carolina game, someone said that it had to give Patrick a lot of confidence but I believe that it gave everyone else a lot of confidence in him. We really rallied around him."

Holtz apparently is ready to let Kass, the projected successor to James Pinkney, take a shot at keeping the Pirates in contention in the Conference USA race this week at Houston. After a 28-21 loss to Southern Miss in week three, ECU can't afford to fall to 0-2 in the league and realistically expect to contend for the title.

"We can't ask Patrick to do everything right now," Holtz said. "We have to formulate different packages so that Patrick and Rob can be successful. It will be much harder for a defense having to prepare for multiple packages. The blocking schemes for the offensive line won't change much but we will use our personnel where they best fit."

Kass relished the chance to play again against West Virginia although the lopsided circumstances of his appearance were far from ideal.

"It wasn't the greatest situation because we were down by so many points, but it felt great," Kass said. "I thank Coach Holtz and Coach (Todd) Fitch (offensive coordinator) for sticking by me and supporting me and giving me that opportunity."

Holtz did what he had to do in terms of maintaining discipline in the program when he suspended Kass, but he also has made sure that Kass understood the lesson that was to be learned.

"It's been a growing experience, a life learning experience," Kass said of his banishment to the sideline. "I've gotten great support at home from my family, from the coaches and from my teammates. I'm really looking forward to the future."

Kass said he was ready if called in the North Carolina and Southern Miss games.

"I was always mentally tied into the game," Kass said. "I was physically and mentally prepared to play."

Holtz apparently hasn't scripted the playing time for his quarterbacks for the matchup with the Cougars.

"He's just told all of us to be prepared as if we were going to play the entire game," Kass said. "We'll all be prepared to play."

Kass has been putting in his time watching tape of Houston, which is 2-1 overall and 1-0 in C-USA with a 34-10 win over Tulane. The Cougars have eight starters back on defense from the team that won the league title in 2006. The biggest loss was quarterback Kevin Kolb, who passed for 3,809 yards and 30 touchdowns last season. Freshman quarterbacks Case Keenum and sophomore Blake Joseph have both made starts for coach Art Briles' program.

"They're extremely well-coached and disciplined defensively," Kass said of the Cougars. "They have very few missed assignments. We have to be very consistent against them. We can use the run to open up the passing game and vice-versa — use the passing game to open up the run."

The Cougars are averaging about 483 yards of offense per game while yielding 376.

The Pirates dealt with one offensive juggernaut last week in that 48-7 loss at West Virginia. Kass drove the Pirates for a touchdown against the Mountaineers reserves with 59 seconds left to avoid a shutout.

"The atmosphere up there was pretty intense — 65,000 screaming fans," Kass said.

WVU had extra time to rest and focus on ECU, having last played against Maryland nine days earlier. The Mountaineers used the appearance on national television to state their case for national title consideration and to promote the Heisman Trophy candidacies of quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton.

The Pirates probably weren't as good as a 20-15 loss in Morgantown in Holtz's first season in 2005 might indicate. Conversely, ECU isn't as bad as the blowout proportions last Saturday might lead one to believe.

"I thought (West Virginia) played an excellent game and I thought we played our worst game of the year," Holtz said.

Kass has a court appearance scheduled later this season as a result of his DWI arrest. His lawyers and coaches have advised him not to talk about the specifics of the case. Kass has resolved to overcome the adversity that his bad judgment generated.

"It doesn't matter how you got knocked down," Kass said. "What matters is how you get back up."

That applies to the projected 2007 starter at quarterback and to the Pirates in general after the debacle last week.

The ECU program has refocused on the task at hand. Practices have been longer this week.

"We're really trying to concentrate on coming back from Houston with a win," Kass said. "We're thinking about going 1-0 this week and that's all that matters."

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09/27/2007 01:40:17 AM


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