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View from the 'ville
Thursday, November 26, 2009

By Al Myatt

Pirates put a lid on emotions

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Undoubtedly, many East Carolina fans will be contemplating Saturday's game with Southern Miss as they sit down to their Thanksgiving meals today.

When the Pirates and Golden Eagles clash, the winner gets the Eastern Division Conference USA title and will host the league championship game with Houston on Dec. 5.

The Pirates will be practicing this morning and Friday afternoon, giving many players the opportunity to be home with the families for a turkey day dinner.

"There's quite a bit (at stake)," said ECU football coach Skip Holtz. "There's so much that some things are getting lost in it. ... You talk about Southern Miss and the rivalry and the history. It's Senior Day as well."

The Pirates have some seniors who have made huge contributions in reviving a program that was 3-20 combined for 2003 and 2004.

Sixth-year quarterback Patrick Pinkney has already played in one senior day, a 53-21 win over Texas-El Paso a year ago to the day in 2008 from this year's Nov. 28 matchup with USM. After completing 17 of 23 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions against the Miners, Pinkney received another year of eligibility for medical hardship from the NCAA.

Pinkney is coming off a strong performance against UAB last week in which he completed 20 of 25 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in a 37-21 Pirates win.

The fact that ECU could be playing at home again next week may take a little edge off of Senior Day but that might be a good thing considering the potential for emotions to balloon on Saturday.

Holtz wants the Pirates focused on execution, not emotion.

"Sometimes when you want something so bad, you're sitting there and you're looking at the scoreboard and you're like 'We really want this,' " he said. "You lose focus on what you're trying to get done on that particular play. That's the key and hopefully that's something we learned a year ago — let's not take our eyes off the prize and what we're trying to do.

"What we're trying to do is just win every play. If you just try and win every play, you don't try and reach for the end result. It's kind of like when you're climbing a mountain, if you sit there and stare at the top, you lose your footing or you don't put a peg in right. If you don't pay attention to the little things, you're not going to get to the top.

"That's kind of where we are right now. We've got to focus on every step that we take, every play that we have and what's my job on this play and do that for 60 minutes. When the dust clears, let's look up on the scoreboard and see where we stand."

One-sided series

The pattern of the series is enough to give the Pirate faithful indigestion. The Golden Eagles are ahead 26-8 on the overall ledger, which dates back to 1951, and have a dominant 15-2 record in games played in Greenville. ECU's only wins at home were in 1976 (48-0) when Pat Dye was coaching and in 1994 (31-10) in Steve Logan's third season.

Holtz is 1-3 against the Golden Eagles, including 0-2 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

"When you look at what Southern Miss has done and the success that they've had, they have definitely had East Carolina's number as a program," said the Pirates coach.

Would he rather be playing on campus Saturday as opposed to journeying to Hattiesburg, MS, where the Pirates are 6-11? Given the circumstances and the history of the series, Holtz will be glad to have all the factors in his favor that a home game provides.

"At home," he said. "At home, even with the record, even against who we're playing. Those records of the past don't have anything to do with this team. It's something great to write about and everything else but the mud bowl and some of the bad calls and the history of this series don't have anything to do with the players this year playing against the Southern Miss players of this year.

"They're distractions to what we have to focus on. They came up here and they beat us (28-21) two years ago up here at home. That game and last year's game (a 21-3 loss at Southern Miss) probably have more relevance than anything else. Southern Miss is a program. They've beat us the last two years in a row. They're a very talented group."

USM brings different look

The Golden Eagles relied first on a power running game under former coach Jeff Bower, who resigned after the 2007 season. Under second-year coach Larry Fedora, Southern Miss has a more contemporary spread attack.

"Any good coach is going to do what his talent allows him to do," Holtz said. " ... Coach Fedora has done a really nice job of taking his talent and doing the best job to get them all on the field and get his athletes in open space."

Regardless of schemes, football comes down to the basics.

"No matter how you draw it up, what offense or defense you run, the game still comes down to that, blocking and tackling," Holtz said. "They've got a huge group of seniors. When you look at their offensive line, they're got four seniors starting there. They've got two senior receivers that are starting. They've got two senior running backs.

"When you look at it, it's going to come down to who wants it the most. This is going to be a heavyweight fight."

Holtz not watching Weis, Irish

Holtz played at and graduated from Notre Dame, where his dad, Lou, guided the Irish to their eighth and most recent consensus national championship in 1988. Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, who is 6-5 in his fifth season at the Golden Dome going into a game at Stanford, has been the subject of widespread speculation about his future at the school.

"It's hard for me because people expect you to know what's going on in college football when you're a college football coach," Skip Holtz said. "But you don't get an opportunity to watch much of it. ... I see very little college football.

"I would love to see Notre Dame win as an alumnus. I stay in touch with a lot of guys that played there, that have been there, and I think it's good for college football when Notre Dame's winning, but as far as me making an evaluation on their team or where they are, I just don't know enough about it."

Weis has acknowledged he wasn't hired to be 6-5.

"A lot of it has to do with how you got to 6-5," Holtz said. "Whether you're getting better and you're showing improvement or whether you're getting worse. It's very difficult to tell that if you don't ever watch a game.

"You can look at a couple of (Notre Dame's) losses and were they ones we were competitive in, are they ones that you should win? You throw it up. You've got to look at what kind of mistakes they're making. Do you go, 'They're 6-5, they've got to do better?' They could have had a rash of injuries, playing some young guys and the young guys make a few mistakes and they're going to get better and better as it goes on.

"They could be playing with all seniors and getting worse. ... It's impossible for me to comment on that without having the opportunity to have watched it or be close to it."

If Holtz and ECU put themselves in position to win an unprecedented second straight C-USA championship game, it's likely that the Pirate skipper would be among the list of candidates for the Irish job if Weis isn't retained in South Bend.

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11/26/2009 03:06 AM


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