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View from the 'ville
Thursday, October 16, 2008

By Al Myatt

Holtz looking to bullpen for Kass

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

One might hope that the Memphis football team wasn't too close to the physical embodiment of the Tigers' mascot, TOM II, who passed away at the age of 17 on Wednesday morning.

Memphis' offensive personnel are talented enough in their own right. East Carolina doesn't need the extra challenge of facing a team with the additional motivation of winning one in memory of old TOM, which stands for Tigers of Memphis.

The Pirates can use all the help they can get as they try to snap a three-game losing streak and keep realistic hopes alive in the Conference USA East Division race. The need for assistance will likely mean more playing time for ECU junior quarterback Rob Kass when the Pirates can wrest possession away from a potent Tigers offense.

ECU's defense, which has yielded 75 points in its last two games, will face a two-dimensional Memphis attack. Junior back Curtis Steele averages 94.0 yards per game rushing while quarterback Arkelon Hall is passing for 258 yards per game.

The sheer physical stature of Memphis' receiving corps is a significant source of concern for Pirates coach Skip Holtz.

"They have the tallest receiving unit in the country, and probably one of the most productive," Holtz said. "When you look at Carlos Singleton, who is 6-foot-8, and what he's been doing there, he's been great. Going against him, I look at what this receiving corps did to us a year ago, and they threw for over 400 yards of offense and scored 40 points on us.

"It's hard to believe this, but I think they're a better receiving corps than they were a year ago."

ECU outscored the Tigers 56-40 last season in Memphis.

Coach Tommy West said that mistakes have kept the Tigers from reaching their offensive potential in 2008.

"There are about four or five plays each week that are keeping us from being a really good offensive team," West said. "Carlos (Singleton) had a drop, Duke (Calhoun) had a drop that was a pick, and we're having four or five plays, and that's not much that's keeping us from being one of the best offenses in the country.

"That's keeping us from being a top 10 team, and I'm not talking about in the league, I'm talking about nationally."

The Pirates know something about national rankings, having crested at No. 14 after a 3-0 start. West, along with the rest of the college football world, is familiar with ECU's rise and fall. The Tigers coach said teams can't rest on their laurels, especially in C-USA.

"East Carolina has certainly started off very hot," West said. "In our league I think every week is a measuring stick. In our league, in particular in our division, you have to bring it every week.

"Anybody is capable of beating anyone. You have to be real good to be at the top of our league."

Although Holtz may use Kass more this week, West is certainly aware of Patrick Pinkney's abilities when he is playing at his best. Pinkney's mobility is an added dimension that can stretch defenses.

The driving force for ECU last season against the Tigers was Chris Johnson, who ran for 301 yards and four touchdowns. Johnson, of course, is now performing for the Tennessee Titans as a productive first-round draft pick.

Memphis is coming off a 35-28 loss to Louisville, whose quarterback, Hunter Cantwell, is basically a pocket passer.

"We're back into the running quarterbacks, " West said. "(Pinkney) has played really well. A year ago they were phenomenal at protecting the ball and getting turnovers. They were plus 17 in turnover ratio at the end of the year last year. They led our league. We were second at plus 10 and they almost doubled us.

"They do a really nice job of not turning it over and letting you turn it over, and then playing for the breaks. Then they cash in when they get their break."

This year's turnover numbers are more relevant and lack the impact of those generated by the respective teams last season. The Pirates are just a plus one in overall turnover margin this season while the Tigers are a minus one.

That doesn't diminish West's perception of Pinkney.

"Their quarterback is the guy that makes them go," West said. "He and Dwayne Harris, their wide out; they move him around so they can get him the ball. The quarterback has played extremely well. He can throw and run. This is a guy that can run with it. We've certainly seen our share of running quarterbacks."

West's appraisal certainly applies to Pinkney on his good days, but as Pinkney has gone so have the Pirates — for better and worse.

Holtz knows it may be time to give Kass a shot. The two quarterback system seemed to work well last season as ECU went 8-5 with a win in the Hawaii Bowl. It gives opposing defenses more to prepare for and gives the ECU coaches a second option if the starter struggles on game day.

"I'm not really set right now with who I'm going to start, but Rob [Kass] will definitely play," Holtz said at the outset of the week. "The rotation and what we're going to do will be mostly determined during the week of practice.

"Patrick is a captain and an upperclassman that has really played well. I really want to be loyal to Patrick and what he has done for this program. At the same, as I said, if we're turning the ball over and not following the plan, we've got to turn and look at what our other options are.

"Right now it's very difficult to look Rob in the eye, as much as he has played, as much experience (as) he has and the way he has played in his opportunities, and tell him that he doesn't deserve a shot. I just don't know at this point what the rotation is going to be, but both quarterbacks will definitely play."

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10/16/2008 12:50:58 AM


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