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View from the 'ville
Thursday, October 30, 2008

By Al Myatt

Pirates prepare for primetime stage

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Sunday night television used to revolve around The Ed Sullivan Show and Bonanza but East Carolina goes on display in the non-traditional time slot for college football this week on ESPN.

The Pirates get one more day of preparation following an open date as they apparently will return to a two-quarterback system.

ECU coach Skip Holtz indicated earlier this week that he wasn't sure how playing time would be split at quarterback for the Pirates on Sunday night at Central Florida.

Whether Patrick Pinkney or Rob Kass plays the majority of snaps, ECU got a boost when receiver Dwayne Harris' status was upgraded from questionable to probable. Harris, who had dinged a shoulder, is the team's top receiver with 45 catches for 562 yards.

The Pirates were already without second leading receiver Jamar Bryant, who was suspended from the team prior to the Virginia game.

Pinkney won the starting job in spring practice after splitting time with Kass for much of an 8-5 season in 2007. But with the offense struggling and the Pirates mired in a three-game losing streak, Kass came in to provide a spark in the second half of a 30-10 Conference USA win over Memphis at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Oct. 18.

Kass completed nine of 17 passes for 167 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Tigers.

"They'll both play," Holtz said. "We are in a very fortunate situation to have two quarterbacks who have a lot of experience under their belts. They've both played and been in game-like situations.

"I said it after the game — I thought Rob Kass did a really nice job of going in and managing the game last week. I thought he took what the defense gave him, made some nice reads and made some nice throws. I thought he did a nice job and we were able to put some points up on the board.

"Rob needs to play, but their strengths are different. Right now I don't think there is a lot of difference between the two as far as productivity. I think they're both doing some good things. Until one really emerges as the difference maker, I think both of them have some strengths that we're going to have to utilize, especially against the defense we're playing this week."

The Pirates are back to playing poker with opposing defensive coordinators, making them prepare for the entire range of attack capabilities that Pinkney and Kass present.

Kass played most of the way against the Knights last season in a 52-38 Pirates win in Greenville on Oct. 6. Pinkney was three for four passing in that game for nine yards. Kass was 12 for 23 for 201 yards with three touchdowns. Chris Johnson provided the big plays with a 72-yard scoring reception from Kass and a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Johnson, of course, is having a very good rookie season for the Tennessee Titans, who are looking wise for making him a first-round draft choice. Johnson had 19 carries for 77 yards, including an 18-yard scoring run in a 31-21 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night. Tennessee is 7-0, the only remaining unbeaten team in the NFL in 2008.

Central Florida also had some significant offensive voids to deal with as running back Kevin Smith and quarterback Kyle Israel are missing from last year's 10-4 team. Smith ran for 2,567 yards as a junior last season before opting for the NFL, including 147 yards on 29 carries against ECU. Israel completed 28 of 45 for 313 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in Greenville last year.

The Knights have struggled on offense in starting 2-5 overall and 1-2 in league play. UCF is averaging 17.9 points per game, last among the 12 teams in C-USA.

"They've been through some question marks right now, as they're trying to find a little bit of their identity and who they are," Holtz said. "When you look at the experience they have on defense, they're just the opposite on offense."

The Knights also have played two quarterbacks, Rob Calabrese and N.C. State transfer Michael Greco.

"They have a young quarterback who had to come in and has played five games for them so far this year," Holtz said. "They're going back and forth between the two quarterbacks and they have four freshmen tailbacks. They do not have a receiver who is a junior or senior, they're all sophomores or younger.

"On the offensive line, they only have one offensive lineman who had started more than six football games up front. They don't have a lot of experience as an offensive football team, but they do have some talent.

"Right now I think they're continuing to work just to find that rhythm, what their identity is, what they're going to be and where they're going to put their saddle as an offensive football team. But they do have some talent there."

ECU needs a win to keep pace with Marshall in the C-USA East Division race. The Thundering Herd topped Houston 37-24 in Huntington on Tuesday night, wearing green helmets for the first time since 1985 in improving to 3-1 in the league. ECU is 2-1 in C-USA.

Marshall will get significantly more time to prepare for its visit to Greenville for ECU's homecoming on Nov. 8 than the Pirates will have to get ready for the Herd.

ECU has had ample time to focus on this Sunday night's game compared to the Knights, who took a 49-19 loss at unbeaten Tulsa this past Sunday night.

"It buys you an extra day," Holtz said of ECU's schedule. "It won't affect us as much in this game as it will the week after. If it were a Friday night game it would shorten this week, which really wouldn't bother us coming out of an open date. It kind of gives us an extra day this week to prepare, but it's going to take away a day away from us next week as we prepare for Marshall.

"I think it's going to be a bigger factor next week than it will be this week. Probably my biggest concern is what I'm going to do with them Friday night because that's Halloween. Normally we're traveling on Friday and they're in a hotel room, so that's probably my biggest concern.

"I think the extra day is going to buy us more time this week and it won't be a negative or a distraction. I've never played on Sunday night, so it's going to be a new experience for me."

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10/30/2008 12:45:00 AM


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