Bonesville: The Authoritative Independent Voice of East Carolina
Daily News & Features from East Carolina, Conference USA and Beyond

Mobile Alpha Roundup Daily Beat Recruiting The Seasons Multimedia Historical Data Pirate Time Machine SportByte™ Weather





Put your ad message in front of 1,000's and 1,000's of Pirate fans. Call 252.637.2944 for flexible options & rates.





View from the 'ville
Thursday, November 1, 2007

By Al Myatt

Holtz: This is no time to falter

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina has the opportunity to have a November and December to remember beginning with this weekend's trip to Memphis.

The Pirates are in position to claim their first league championship in football since the 1976 team won the Southern Conference.

ECU has never won a conference football title since becoming a "major college" program in 1977. East Carolina joined Conference USA for football in 1997. The Pirates have never gone through C-USA with less than two losses.

The Pirates are currently 4-1 in Conference USA and control their own fate in the league race since Central Florida won 34-17 at Southern Miss on Sunday night. That outcome dropped the Golden Eagles, who hold a head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over ECU, to 3-2 in the league.

Perhaps Pirates coach Skip Holtz should send UCF coach George O'Leary a thank-you card. Then again, the Pirates skipper has his mind on a lot of other things this week.

"It's exciting for us right now, but at the same time we have to remain focused in order to get ready for Memphis," Holtz said. "We needed the help to control our own destiny but we always try to go 1-0 each week. The media and fans will do all the predicting, projecting and forecasting."

C-USA Associate Commissioner Alfred White was at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for last Saturday's 41-6 triumph over UAB and used the opportunity to check out facilities as a prospective host site for the league championship game on Saturday, Dec. 1.

That's exciting. The league championship would be shown on ESPN or ESPN2 and the home field advantage would be a considerable factor in favor of the Pirates. But Holtz, who stands to realize incentive clauses in his contract for a C-USA title and a bowl trip, knows there is still a lot of work to be done before any bonus checks are cut.

He isn't hitching the cart ahead of the horse.

"People have already started talking about three games from now but we need to make sure we don't fall into that trap," said the ECU coach.

The Pirates could see the light at the end of the tunnel last season in terms of a division title but those aspirations were derailed with an 18-17 loss at Rice on Nov. 18. The Owls prevailed 18-17 on a 40-yard field goal by Clark Fangmeier with three seconds remaining.

Holtz said there are lessons to be learned from that loss at Rice last season.

"It is definitely a teaching tool," he said. "We were in the same situation last year that we are in now, controlling our own destiny. Hopefully the players remember that trip and that feeling after losing the opportunity to play for the conference championship.

"I always talk about taking two steps forward and one step back. Last year we put ourselves in a position to play for the championship and we stubbed our toe at the last second. Hopefully that taught us to maintain our focus this year. If we don't take care of business this week then we lose the opportunity to play for it again next week."

ECU visits Marshall on Nov. 10 and then gets a bye week before finishing the regular season at home on Nov. 24 against Tulane.

Of immediate concern is Memphis' passing game, which is producing 280.1 yards per game, good enough for 18th among 119 Bowl Subdivision teams. The Tigers' strength will match up against an ECU weakness. The Pirates are allowing 289.4 yards per game passing, which is 112th of 119 teams.

The teams have one common opponent, Central Florida. A flurry of second-half turnovers helped ECU to a 52-38 win over the Knights in Greenville on Oct. 6. Memphis lost 56-20 to UCF in Orlando on Sept. 22. That's the Tigers' only league loss.

The Tigers don't need a Halloween mask to be scary, according to Holtz.

"We know that we have a challenge this week," said the ECU coach. "Memphis is a 4-4 football team right now and 3-1 in the conference. They have won three of their last four and are playing well with confidence.

"Offensively, they are scary because they have three tailbacks (senior Joseph Doss, sophomore T.J. Pitts and sophomore Miguel Barnes) that are playing by committee. All of them are averaging four yards per carry."

Actually, Barnes is averaging 3.8 yards, but the biggest gun in Tiger coach Tommy West's arsenal is the throwing arm of quarterback Martin Hankins, who hails from Hattiesburg, MS, home of Southern Miss. Hankins has completed 123 of 196 passes for 1,493 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Hankins' numbers have been compiled in just six games as he missed a 24-21 win over Marshall on Oct. 2 and a 21-7 loss to Middle Tennessee on Oct. 13.

"He has played well in the two games since he came back," West said. "He's as sharp as I've ever seen him."

Holtz said he was glad the Pirates weren't involved in a basketball game with UAB last week because of the height of the Blazers receivers. ECU will face a similar situation this week in terms of the size of the Tigers' receiving corps.

"We have been trying to teach Travis Simmons and Travis Williams (ECU defensive backs) how to backpedal on stilts in order to be able to play the jump ball with some of them," Holtz said.

Both teams tend to take care of the ball well offensively and generate turnovers with their defense. ECU is seventh nationally in turnover margin at a plus-1.33 per game. Memphis is tied for ninth nationally at plus-1.13 per contest.

"They've been really good in the turnover game," said West of the Pirates. "They're leading the league and we're second right now."

One factor that may help both defenses on Saturday is the similarity of the two teams' offenses. The Memphis defense won't have to learn a new scheme from the scout team this week because the system they'll face will closely parallel one which they've scrimmaged against — and vice-versa for the Pirates.

"They look offensively like a very similar offense," West said. "It's amazing watching it how similar both teams are from an offensive standpoint."

The Pirates will be playing for the tenth straight Saturday.

"East Carolina has played an absolute brutal schedule," West said. "They've beaten Houston, UTEP and Central Florida, which are three really good teams."

Pirates center Fred Hicks will likely have ankle surgery this week. His absence at Memphis will force some personnel shuffling. Stephen Heis is expected to play more snaps as a result.

"Heis is now in the position to where he will have to play 75 plays a game," Holtz said. "He will need to assume more of a leadership role."

While the offensive line has been thinned and faces adjustments, Holtz has more confidence in his depth at quarterback after Patrick Pinkney completed 6 of 7 last week for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Brett Clay also saw some action against UAB. Rob Kass started and got the Pirates out to a 10-3 lead.

"Both quarterbacks will play," Holtz said. "Who plays will be predicated on how we are moving the football and the other team's defense."

Holtz wants to avoid any quarterback controversy.

"I think we have a very healthy quarterback situation," he said. "The first guy off the sideline to congratulate Patrick Pinkney after he threw that touchdown to Jamar Bryant in the third quarter Saturday was Rob Kass.

"Everyone — not just the quarterbacks — are talking to each other during the course of the game. It's a healthy competition and a great thing for our football team. I feel that we have two quarterbacks that merit some playing time.

"This is not Rob Kass versus Patrick Pinkney, but East Carolina versus Memphis."

The Memphis defense that Kass and Pinkney will face will give the Pirates a lot of looks. Adding to the degree of difficulty will be a Homecoming crowd at the Liberty Bowl.

"We will have to be ready for the 4-4 or 4-3 and be really simple in what we do offensively," Holtz said. "They are first in redzone defense, second in scoring defense and third in passing defense, so we need to be ready. It will take one of our better efforts, especially playing on the road."

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

11/01/2007 12:44:05 AM


©2001-2002-2003-2004-2005-2006-2007-2008-2009-2010-2011-2012-2013 All rights reserved.
Articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files and other content originated on this site are the proprietary property of
None of the articles, logos, graphics, photos, audio files, video files or other content originated on this site may be reproduced without written permission.
This site is not affiliated with East Carolina University. View's Privacy Policy. Advertising contact: 252-349-3280; Editorial contact:; 252-444-1905.