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View from the 'ville
Thursday, October 25, 2007

By Al Myatt

Weary Pirates regroup for UAB

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Skip Holtz isn't taking anything for granted based on UAB's 2-5 record as the East Carolina football coach prepares his team to meet the Blazers at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday in a key Conference USA clash at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

"As I told the players and I told the staff, it's a trap right now to sit here and start looking at anybody's record and make that as the determination on whether they're good or not," Holtz said. "We just played a 1-5 N.C. State team that had lost to Florida State and Clemson and Boston College and just came off an open date."

The rested and refocused Wolfpack outperformed the Pirates down the stretch for a 34-20 win last Saturday. ECU hasn't had an open date since leading off the season at national power Virginia Tech.

"Playing eight straight weeks, I don't think you can take anybody for granted," Holtz said. "We're beat up a little bit right now and we have to turn and focus on this UAB team which is kind of in the same boat. Even though their record doesn't have a lot in the wins column right now, when you look at 'em they've lost to Florida State, Mississippi State, Michigan State and to Houston and Tulsa.

"They've lost to five really good football teams."

Some strong Blazers personnel also makes Holtz wary.

"I've really been impressed with Sam Hunt," said the ECU coach. "He's having some success there throwing the ball around. They've got a very good running back in (Rashaud) Slaughter."

Holtz said the Pirates are fortunate they're not matching up with the Blazers for a hoops contest.

"From a receivers standpoint, I'm glad we're not going to a basketball game because they're all 6-4 and 6-5," said the Pirates skipper. "We wouldn't have much of a chance there."

The Blazers will present a 4-3 alignment defensively. Pirates quarterback Rob Kass said UAB's experience in the defensive backfield will impact ECU's game plan.

"They have a very talented secondary," Kass said. "We know we have to exploit where they're not as strong. Their front seven against our front seven — we feel like we have an advantage — so we'll try to run at them and use the play action pass to hit them over the top."

N.C. State had six sacks in last week's win in Greenville. UAB has 14 sacks this season.

"Any team in third down and medium is going to be more consistently blitzing," Kass said. "On film, we've seen that they do tend to blitz. We feel like as long as we recognize the blitz — our receivers recognize it and the offensive line recognizes it — that we'll be able to handle it and get rid of the ball on time."

UAB topped the Pirates 17-12 in Birmingham last season as ECU receiver Phillip Henry was stripped of the ball at the 1-yard line after a 56-yard pass play from James Pinkney in a fourth-and-15 situation.

Blazers senior cornerback Will Evans recovered the loose ball in the end zone with 1:12 remaining. UAB safety Chris Felder was credited with dislodging the ball from Henry's grasp. Henry had seven catches for 64 yards last week against the Wolfpack.

"Obviously, it's in the back of our minds," Kass said of last year's loss to the Blazers. "Going down to their place last year and having an opportunity to win the game was great. Having it slip away was tough.

"I know Phillip has been reliving that moment and learning from it. I guarantee that he will come back and have a big day on Saturday. He's learned from it and he's become a better player from it. We know that as long as we go out there and be productive on Saturday that we'll get the job done."

ECU is 7-7 in its next game following a loss to the Wolfpack.

"We watched film on Sunday, we learned from our mistakes and we're moving on," Kass said of the non-conference loss to a regional rival. "Whether it's a big win or a tough loss — like this past Saturday — we move on.

"There's a short work week in college football with having Monday off for academics. We really have to move on and look forward to our next opponent because if we don't win this week, we're out of the conference race. We really feel like we have to go 1-0 each and every week from now on."

Kass and the Pirates are counting on a supportive home crowd on Saturday afternoon.

"Obviously, the State game was a tough loss," Kass said. "But the Pirate Nation is amazing. They're going to support us through the tough times and the good times. They're there for us."

Holtz didn't fault the effort last week against the Wolfpack but noted that ECU struggled at times with its execution.

"I was really proud of how hard our players played," said the Pirates coach. "They played hard. They gave great effort. We just made some costly mistakes that cost us the football game. We had some unforced turnovers when we were backed up and gave them a short field to work with. Offensively, we didn't execute very well.

"We were kind of forced into a little bit more of a passing game where we were dropping back every down. One of the things we've been trying to do was kind of hide our quarterback and receivers a little bit with so many of them being new and inexperienced.

"They played a lot of man coverage and they tackled very well in space. They kind of forced us into a kind of one-dimensional game of throwing the ball and we did not execute very well offensively."

ECU did climb out of a three-touchdown deficit hole against the Pack.

"We found ourselves down 21-0 and we came back in the second quarter," Holtz said. "We made it a 21-17 game and then there in the third quarter, we were playing really well on defense. We had a couple of three and outs. We just couldn't get anything going from an offensive standpoint to get the ball downfield and get it into the end zone.

"It was a close game and then in the fourth quarter they scored that last touchdown to go up 31-20."

UAB is coached by Neil Calloway, who is in his first year with the program. His name had been mentioned in some previous ECU coaching searches.

"This is a very talented football team and it's going to be a heckuva challenge," Holtz said. "It's starting to take a toll on us coming into the ninth straight week in a row with some of the injuries and as many emotional games we've been in."

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10/25/2007 06:04:13 AM


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