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Game 5: Houston 41, No. 23 ECU 24


Inside Game Day
Sunday, September 28, 2008

By Al Myatt

ECU not spared in wave of upsets

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

GREENVILLE — Maybe Oregon State set the tone for the college football weekend with its 27-21 mega-upset of Southern Cal on Thursday night. The Beavers showed the way for underdogs to have their day on Saturday as ranked teams were going down like tree limbs in a hurricane.

The Trojans had been called the most talented team ever in college football by no less an authority than The Sporting News. They were supposed to be a special team, not just this season but for the ages. When a power held in that regard gets knocked off on national television, is there a sense of enablement for every team across the nation that can identify with a program like Oregon State?

Is seeing believing?

Well, Ole Miss ruined No. 4 Florida's day. Wisconsin, ranked No. 9, bit the dust at Michigan's Big House. Navy sank No. 16 Wake Forest. Maryland went into Death Valley and lived to tell about its conquest of No. 20 Clemson. The Bulldogs of No. 3 Georgia got penned between their own hedges by Alabama.

There was talk about this being a special team at East Carolina this season but the No. 23 Pirates were not spared from the swath of stunners as the Houston Cougars piled up 621 yards of total offense in outscoring ECU, 41-24. The Cougars came into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with less than ordinary credentials at 1-3, but they quickly sprang to life.

"You watch them on film and they have not been near as efficient as they were today," said ECU coach Skip Holtz. "I think they were extremely motivated coming in here. They played with their backs against the wall and I thought they played extremely well."

The ink is barely dry on a newly-approved contract that will guarantee Holtz over $4 million through 2013 with incentives that could boost his earnings to over $9 million for the term of the package.

The numbers that mattered on Saturday were ECU's conversion rate on third down, which was approaching the poverty level in terms of offensive consistency. ECU was just 1-for-13 on third down.

"The difference was third down and getting our defense off the field," said Cougars coach Kevin Sumlin.

Holtz cited a number of factors that tend to level the playing field for ranked teams and programs they are supposed to beat.

"I think it shows you that there's great parity in college football," Holtz said. "I think if you're not playing at an emotional peak, which is extremely difficult to do 12 weeks in a row, I think about anybody can beat anybody.

"I said at the beginning of the year what we saw with App State and Michigan was not the stars aligned. The 85-scholarship reduction, the shortened clock, the emotion that it takes to play week in and week out — there's a lot of good football teams out there. How does a 1-2 football team beat the No. 1 team in the country that had pretty much established their dominance?

"After the Ohio State game, everybody said, 'Well, they're in a class by themselves and then there's everybody else.' "

Houston took it to ECU early, never trailing after quarterback Case Keenum threw to Patrick Edwards for a 24-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 9:52 left in the first quarter. Keenum completed 36 of 44 passes for 399 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

Edwards caught 11 passes for 146 yards and Bryce Beall ran 22 times for a net of 132 yards with two TDs.

"I don't think anybody in this league intimidates other teams in this league, meaning that everybody feels like they can line up and play with anybody," Holtz said. "We're going to get everybody's best shot at this point. We're ranked and we beat two BCS teams. You don't think those are being said in the meetings during the week?

"You hear, 'You better get ready. They already beat Virginia Tech. They already beat West Virginia. They're ranked 23rd. You better get ready. They're going to hit you in the mouth,' you know. I'm sure a lot of that's used. I'd use it against us. I used it against West Virginia and Virginia Tech. That's how you get your players up to go win.

"I've said this before — 'The fear of failure is an unbelievable motivator.' Sometimes getting you to play with your back up against the wall and turning and straining and fighting and kind of going that extra inch (is the deciding factor)."

When ECU beat then-No. 8 West Virginia, 24-3, its status changed from a hunter to the hunted. That game showed how good the Pirates can be. There were times against Houston when ECU bore no resemblance to itself 21 days ago — like when Cougar wide receiver Kierrie Johnson was so wide open for an 84-yard touchdown pass from Keenum in the fourth quarter he looked like he might have been under quarantine.

The Pirates turned to back-up quarterback Rob Kass, who saw his first significant action of the season, in search of a spark. Kass had one solid drive to get ECU within 21-17 but his fourth quarter interception led to a score that put the Cougars in command at 38-17.

"This wasn't Rob's fault and it wasn't Patrick's fault," Holtz said.

The Pirates coach called the disappointing outcome "a team effort."

ECU now has an open date — two weeks to get ready for an Oct. 11 game at Virginia. Some time off may be the answer for a team whose performance level has diminished in recent weeks.

"We need a week off mentally and physically," Holtz said. "Our first four games were emotional and physical but this one was a little more strategic and played in space. We need to take a hard look at where we are right now, but I also think the players need to get away from football a little bit."

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09/28/2008 03:07:38 AM


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