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View from the 'ville
Friday, November 9, 2007

By Al Myatt

C.J, Pinkney, Kass catch Snyder's eye

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina coach Skip Holtz is one of a few college football coaches who can count on a proven bullpen when formulating his offensive game plan.

Patrick Pinkney came on in relief of starting quarterback Rob Kass last week in the Pirates' 56-40 Conference USA win at Memphis and went 8 for 16, passing for 105 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Pinkney also ran eight times for 94 yards with a 45-yard scoring keeper in ECU's fifth consecutive C-USA victory. Kass will likely start again on Saturday at Marshall but Pinkney will be waiting in the wings to bring his particular skills to the Pirates' table.

"They're playing two quarterbacks," said Thundering Herd coach Mark Snyder. "I think both of those guys are playing within themselves and we're going to face another great running back here in (Chris) Johnson. We've just got to know who's in the game and be prepared for them.

"They're very versatile. They're spreading the ball around to everybody. The quarterbacks are getting the ball into people's hands. Coach Holtz is doing things that those kids can do."

Johnson stepped up in huge fashion last week with 301 yards rushing and four touchdowns, rewriting the school record book with 408 all-purpose yards and his 38th career touchdown.

"He's really starting to grow up and turn it on," Snyder said of Johnson.

ECU needs effective quarterbacking to keep defenses from keying on the fleet and elusive senior running back. The Pirates have done that through the tag team of Kass and Pinkney this season. Both have been brilliant at times although neither has delivered ideal consistency.

Pinkney has been the biggest surprise of ECU's quarterback committee. A Pirate legacy, the son of former ECU standout defensive back Reggie Pinkney, the Fayetteville Pine Forest product might not have gotten on the field if Kass hadn't been arrested for DWI prior to the season opener at Virginia Tech.

But Kass' poor judgment in the preseason has been a long term blessing for the Pirates in terms of offensive depth and diversity. Pinkney, who went into the season as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, got his chance in Blacksburg when Brett Clay started and struggled.

Pinkney directs an offensive package that contrasts the pocket passing Kass because of Pinkney's scrambling ability. Kass can run, too, but his style is more like that of a barreling tight end. Although Pinkney is labeled as the runner of the pair, he also can wing it, as his 406 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-31 win over North Carolina attest.

Kass was Captain Clutch at Texas-El Paso with a game-tying 34-yard touchdown pass as time expired and the winning touchdown drive capped by his keeper.

Generally, Holtz has been able to find someone with a hot hand as the bowl-eligible Pirates venture into Charleston, W V, with control of their fate in the Conference USA East Division title race.

Kass will be cast in the leadoff role at Marshall.

"I think we'll keep doing that same thing," Pinkney said after practice on Wednesday. "I think Kass is going to start out and they're going to tell me what series I'm going in."

Pinkney said he's comfortable with that arrangement.

"If I start or just come out the second or third series I've just got to be ready to play and just lead the team," Pinkney said.

Pinkney emerged as a game-changing offensive threat in the victory over North Carolina but at times has struggled to find anything approaching that degree of effectiveness. Kass has had his shining moments along with some pitfalls as well.

"Being our first year really playing at this level, you're going to have ups and downs the first year at the quarterback position," Pinkney said. "But we're coming along very strong. We work together. We're just going to finish strong and lead our team."

ECU's dual quarterback system has helped propel the Pirates into contention for the C-USA crown despite a 28-21 loss to Southern Miss on Sept. 15 in ECU's league opener. The Golden Eagles were the preseason favorites in the C-USA race but USM's nationally-televised losses to Rice and Central Florida have helped elevate the Pirates to the top of the division standings.

Pinkney said he didn't lose confidence that the Pirates could get back into the league championship picture despite failing to hold a lead against Southern Miss.

"That's why we worked hard all summer — to reach the conference championship," Pinkney said. "Everybody's believing it and we're playing well on both sides of the ball. That's what it takes."

Holtz and the Pirates appear to have adjusted well to their unplanned two quarterback system. ECU has averaged 48.5 points in its last two games.

"We've kind of gone back and forth, obviously," said the Pirates coach. "Our hand was forced a little bit early where we had to turn and go with Patrick and Brett Clay with the suspension of Rob early in the season.

"Patrick went in and really did a nice job. He kind of earned the opportunity to become the starter. When Rob came back about three or four weeks later, he got in the game and did a really nice job with it.

"We feel like we have two quarterbacks that both have some strengths. Neither one had an awful lot of experience coming into this season. They both have some weaknesses but they both have some strengths. They're different quarterbacks and we've got to be able to utilize them both."

Situations impact who's under center.

"We got into a game last week where we were going to turn and run the ball an awful lot," Holtz said. "Especially at halftime, when we had the lead and we felt like we needed to run the ball to eat some time off the clock. We put Patrick in in the second half and he did a really nice job.

"We ended up scoring on our first four opportunities in the second half."

That performance obviously kept Pinkney in the game.

"When you're having that kind of success on offense, it's just kind of hard to turn and make your quarterback change," Holtz said. "There's been some games where Patrick is going to play the majority of the game. Rob's going to play a little bit of a role and have, say, 20 plays. And, same thing, there have been games so far where Rob has played the majority of the game and Patrick has played the limited role and only had about 15 or 20 plays."

Holtz will continue to look for the quarterback situation that will give the Pirates their best opportunity to lock down their first conference championship since 1976.

"They're both gonna play," he said. "One of the things I think that makes it work is that they're both such great young men. They're both character guys. They care about this team and they're kind of putting their individual goals on the sideline."

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11/09/2007 02:04:17 AM


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