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View from the 'ville
Thursday, January 31, 2008

By Al Myatt

Bowl victory still reverberating

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

The last time many East Carolina fans saw an image of Skip Holtz was in the aftermath of a 41-38 win over Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl when he was summarizing to an ESPN sideline reporter what was widely perceived as an upset.

The ECU coach's comments came at the conclusion of a telecast that was received in over 1.4 million households.

Holtz has continued to be a household presence on a much smaller scale as he visits prospective players and their families with signing day approaching.

He will be back in the eye of the Pirate Nation when the incoming class for 2008 is officially unveiled in Harvey Hall of the Murphy Center next Wednesday afternoon at 5 p.m.

Holtz has been busy traversing the recruiting trail but the holiday conquest five time zones away has lingered like a welcomed guest. The positive repercussions of the triumph over the Broncos have yet to subside. Bowl games can have that effect. ECU's postseason experience in 2006 favorably impacted the Pirates in 2007.

"Last year's bowl game (a 24-7 loss to South Florida) went a long way in helping maintain our focus," said Holtz as he drove between meetings with potential players in the Charlotte area on Tuesday. "Nobody likes to go to a bowl game and come home with that losing taste in the mouth. It kind of puts a damper on the whole offseason. At the same time it drives your players to understand that we're not where we need to be yet."

The Pirates were able to combine business with pleasure and achieve successful results the second time around.

"Starting Saturday night it was like, 'O.K., the trip to Hawaii's over. We've seen Hawaii. We've done Hawaii and now it's all about a bowl game,' " Holtz said. "We tried to really break the trip up into two phases. There was the trip to Hawaii, which was an event of a lifetime for most of our players, but then we still have the game. ... Come Saturday, it was just like a road trip.

"It's a business trip and we had to make sure we were going to get done what we had to get done. I was really pleased with the focus they had and the leadership. They really went out and played an exceptional game, especially in the first half — coming out like gangbusters. We knew we were playing a good team. They came roaring back and tied the game up."

ECU led 31-14 at the half but Boise State rallied to tie the score at 38 with 1:25 to go.

"During the course of the season, they had a lot of close games, but one thing you can say about this team is that they never quit," Holtz said. "They played for 60 minutes and it took every second to get that victory. It was a huge win for our program and a huge win for our players."

Names on backs back?

East Carolina had players' names on the backs of jerseys in the Hawaii Bowl for the first time since the Bowl in Birmingham in 2006.

"I told them if they wanted their names on the jerseys, they have to get in a bowl game," Holtz said.

The players wanted their names on the jerseys for the 2007 season but Holtz didn't allow it after the postseason loss to the Bulls at Legion Field.

"I told them, 'You've got to win a bowl game before I'll even consider that,' " said the Pirates coach. "Right now they're telling me, 'You've got to start considering, Coach. You've got to start looking at that.' "

Holtz said he hasn't decided if ECU will have players names on the jerseys in 2008.

"I'll probably sit down and talk with the seniors about it," he said. "I know the players and fans all want it because it makes recognition really easy but I think Terry Holland (ECU athletic director) has been real excited about all the programs we've been selling."

As the vendors say, you can't tell the players without a scorecard.

QB competition to resume

East Carolina will begin spring practice on Feb. 27 following an 8-5 season in 2007 in which Rob Kass and Patrick Pinkney both played a lot of important snaps.

Kass completed 96 of 175 attempts for 1,164 yards and nine touchdowns with four interceptions in 10 games, while Pinkney completed 121 of 200 passes for 1,358 yards and 11 scores with four picks in 13 games. Pinkney also finished as ECU's second leading rusher for the season with 79 keepers for a net of 306 yards.

Kass had the starting job until a DWI before the 2007 season opener at Virginia Tech resulted in a disciplinary suspension. Pinkney emerged after Brett Clay struggled against the Hokies. Pinkney's best effort came in a 34-31 win over North Carolina in which he threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in 41 attempts in the second game of the season.

Holtz said he would prefer to identify a starter at quarterback in the offseason, although the dual system had its merits in 2007.

"I would have liked to have done that this year." he said. "Unfortunately, it just didn't turn out with the circumstances the way the season started. Patrick jumped up there the first couple of games of the year and was playing so well that he deserved the opportunity that he got. It's hard once you get into the Fall to say, 'O.K., we're going to compete.'

"Neither quarterback had experience. They both gained an awful lot of experience this year. I would love to be able to identify one and be able to say, 'This is our quarterback,' but I think we needed both quarterbacks to do what we did this season with the inexperience of both of 'em.

"It will be interesting to see how everybody is going to react and the way that they're going to develop and start to prosper now that they've got some experience under their belt. We'll roll the balls back out in the spring and let them compete for it once again. I know that Brett Clay's name wasn't mentioned an awful lot this fall. It was Rob and Patrick's job the majority of the season, but I don't think Brett Clay was a distant third.

"I think it's going to be interesting to see how much they're all going to develop over the next eight months. We're going to take the same formula — we're going to play the best quarterback we feel gives us a chance to win."

With the loss of running back Chris Johnson, who produced an ECU record 2,960 all-purpose yards as a senior, quarterback play could have even larger implications for the Pirates next season.

Despite the pending competition, ECU fans may not have seen the last of a multiple quarterback situation.

"Just like in the bowl game, I thought Patrick Pinkney did an exceptional job through the course of the game," Holtz said. "But we got to the end of the game and didn't feel like we could sit on it. They were really loading the box and stopping the running game and we needed to throw it a little more.

"We made the decision to go with Rob Kass, which turned out to be a great decision for us."

Kass had a 36-yard completion to Jamar Bryant that set up the winning 34-yard field goal by Ben Hartman as time expired.

"We've just got to roll the balls out and let 'em compete, let the chips fall where they do and see who develops the most this offseason," Holtz said. "If we have a clear cut starter, we'll name him. If not, we'll go into the season and we'll be very similar to how we were last year."

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01/31/2008 01:38:47 AM


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