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Game 12: ECU 35, Tulane 12


Inside Game Day
Sunday, November 25, 2007

By Al Myatt

Waikiki may be beckoning

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.


It's a term of greeting or farewell in Hawai'i, originating late in the 19th century — long before the tropical islands became the 50th state.

And it may soon become a part of East Carolina's vocabulary.

Among the six bowl games with which Conference USA has slots, the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl may become ECU's destination. The game is scheduled for Dec. 23 at 3 p.m. local time and will be shown on ESPN. That's 8 p.m. Eastern Time, a prime slot in terms of exposure in the continental U.S.

Asked what bowl he would like to see the Pirates in during a win over Tulane on Senior Day at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and ECU athletic director Terry Holland replied succinctly, "the Liberty."

That would mean of course that the Pirates would be in Memphis as C-USA champions. For that scenario to occur would have required some help from Texas-El Paso in the form of a Miners win at Central Florida on Saturday.

Although UTEP led 17-16, the Knights eventually pulled away to a 36-20 win and locked up the C-USA East Division title.

Waikiki would seem to be a nice consolation if the Pirates can't party on Beale Street.

Big Senior Day for Johnson

East Carolina's Chris Johnson admitted he has felt snubbed to a degree this season when compared to UCF's Kevin Smith and Tulane's Matt Forte.

Johnson ran 27 times for 155 yards in a 35-12 triumph over the Green Wave in his last game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday. He also was the Pirates' leading receiver with four catches for 85 yards. Johnson had two rushing TDs and one receiving score.

Forte came into the game with 197.4 yards per game rushing, the best in the nation, but he was limited to 120 yards on 25 carries by the Pirates.

On a definitive play in the second quarter, Tulane went for fourth-and-one at the 50 and gave the ball to Forte off right tackle. ECU strong safety J.J. Millbrook met the Green Wave senior in the hole and stopped him for no gain.

As the Pirates' lead mounted, Tulane had to get away from its bread and butter ground game.

"It feels good to outrun him," Johnson said. "I really don't get any publicity in this conference. It's always Matt Forte or Kevin Smith. Every time I go out against each of them, I prove I'm the better back."

The Pirates defeated UCF 52-38 in Greenville on Oct. 6 as Johnson had 178 all-purpose yards to 167 for Smith.

Johnson's touchdown pass reception came on a screen to the right that he took down the sideline 33 yards for ECU's last score. He caught a calf cramp on his way to the end zone but still managed to beat the Tulane pursuit to paydirt.

"Chris Johnson makes the job easier for any quarterback and the offensive line," said ECU quarterback Rob Kass, who completed 12 of 18 for 177 yards with no interceptions and three touchdowns. "It was a big opportunity for us as an offense because they were the No. 2 rushing defense in Conference USA. We knew they were going to try and load the box on us. We knew we had to make plays out wide.

"Our offensive line did a great job protecting and our receivers did a great job today of making plays when they had to.

"We knew they were going to pound the ball and hold the ball with their running back. We knew as an offense that we had to be explosive. We felt like we had to take advantage of every opportunity we had and we felt like we did today."

Dual QB's, but no duel

Both teams played multiple quarterbacks. Kass and Patrick Pinkney split time early on. Kass played the first two series and Pinkney came in for the next two. Pinkney was 2 for 3 passing for 45 yards. Pinkney scrambled in several throwing situations. He had 12 yards on five keepers.

"Whether it was myself or Patrick going in there we knew we wanted to execute as an offense," Kass said. "To know prior that I would have the first two series and then Patrick would go in, it was comforting almost. As much as I want to be in there 100 percent of the time, I learn from sitting back and watching from the sidelines.

"And I think Patrick does, too. He sits back. We try and help each other in every situation."

Tulane (4-8, 3-5 C-USA) played quarterbacks Anthony Scelfo (nephew of former Green Wave coach Chris Scelfo), Kevin Moore and Scott Elliott. Scelfo started and had the best numbers, going 12 for 20 for 133 yards with no TD's and no picks.

The Wave even snapped directly to Forte on occasion. The big back was credited with going 1 for 2 on pass attempts, his lone completion going for four yards.

BCS mess

Why can't the college presidents, television, conference commissioners and other BCS powerbrokers get together and structure a playoff system for the biggest division in college football?

Arkansas' triple overtime win over LSU is further proof that the current system is dysfunctional. It's like Musical Chairs, whoever is one and two when the music stops gets to play for the national title.

Putting every conference champion in a playoff with some deserving at-large teams within the existing bowl structure is the solution.

Let teams focus on winning their league and getting into the postseason instead of the absurd King-of-the-Mountain system currently in place.

The academic justification of the current system doesn't work either. It isn't a problem in the Championship Subdivision. Athletes might actually miss less class time if the playoffs started in the current interim between the regular season and the bowls.

Bowl experience a plus

East Carolina was just happy to be in the Bowl last season in Birmingham after an extensive journey through the football wilderness. The Pirates didn't have one of their better efforts as they lost to a solid South Florida team, 24-7.

"Our goal last year was just to make it to a bowl," Johnson said. "This year's goal is not just to make it to a bowl game, we want to win a bowl game."

The 2000 team had a similar mindset after losing 28-14 to LaDanian Tomlinson and Texas Christian in the Mobile Bowl.

The focus was on winning the following season when the Pirates matched up with Texas Tech in the Bowl in Houston's Astrodome. ECU rolled to a 34-7 lead at the half and overwhelmed the Red Raiders, 40-27.

The Pirates had similar redemptive motivation in 1995 after losing 30-0 to Illinois in the Liberty Bowl in 1994. The Pirates topped Stanford 19-13 on their return trip to Memphis.

"As much as this football team has accomplished, at the same time they understand that we want to win a championship," said ECU coach Skip Holtz. "It's not enough just to go to one. How we can improve on last year — win six games in the conference and not only go to a bowl game again but have the opportunity to win it as well."

A graph of ECU's performance in C-USA during the Holtz era shows steady improvement. He took over a team that was 2-6 the previous season. Holtz's teams have gone 4-4 in the league in 2005, 5-3 in 2006 and 6-2 this season.


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11/25/2007 04:10:23 AM


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