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From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, December 2, 2008

By Brian Bailey

Underdog faces juggernaut

By Brian Bailey
All rights reserved.


Replay Monday night's Brian Bailey Show with guest Steve Shankweiler. Eastern North Carolina's longest running sports radio call-in show airs every Monday night at 7 p.m. on Pirate Radio 1250-AM and 930-AM.
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East Carolina coach Skip Holtz looks at the numbers and says this is certainly a “David vs. Goliath” matchup for the Conference USA championship.

Tulsa is 10-2 on the season while the Pirates are 8-4. The Golden Hurricane is one of the most powerful offensive machines in the country. Tulsa scores points at a dizzying clip, averaging just under 50 points per game.

“Last week (vs. Texas-El Paso) we had 477 yards of total offense and thought we were really doing something,” said Holtz. “Tulsa AVERAGES 580 yards of offense. Tulsa also leads the nation in third down efficiency, converting nearly 60 percent of the time.

"This will be a tremendous challenge for sure.”

The old adage goes that figures lie and liars figure.

These numbers are startling. Tulsa ranks first in the nation in scoring offense, first in pass efficiency, second in scoring offense and third in first downs.

The Golden Hurricane has had a weaker schedule then East Carolina. Tulsa's strength of schedule is pretty much at the opposite end from those gaudy numbers on offense.

The challenge of stopping such a lethal attack falls in the hands of Pirate defensive coordinator Greg Hudson. Hudson also knows the challenge that lies ahead.

“That’s a good question, because nobody has done it,” said Hudson about his unit's game plan. “We will just prepare the same way we’ve done it all year. We look at negative plays, plays under five yards and what teams have done to put them in that position.

"Unfortunately, most of those types of plays have been incomplete passes, which is self inflicted. You work on the things that you’ve seen other teams do well, and then you do the things you know that you can do. You have to try and eliminate mistakes before they happen.”

Hudson has seen his share of injuries on his side of the ball. Pierre Bell will be back this week for sure, which will certainly help. Hudson also likes the way this defense is playing with confidence.

“The guys aren’t confused,” said Hudson. “That’s a good thing. We’ve got some young kids out there but we’ve given them very little to try and focus on. The older guys have really stepped up their play to fill in those gaps.”

Most of the attention on Tulsa focuses on the offense, but look out for the Golden Hurricane defense. Tulsa is sixth in the nation in sacks, averaging three per game.

“That’s one of the problems against a team like Tulsa,” explained Holtz. “They do a good job in stopping the run, so it’s hard for a team to control the game on offense and keep that high powered attack off the field.”

Tulsa goes into the game as a 13-point favorite.

A win sends East Carolina to the Liberty Bowl. A loss in the title game, and the Pirates' destination could literally be anywhere. There is one scenario where the GMAC Bowl in Mobile may ask out of its C-USA commitment to try and get Ball State to play Boise State in a battle of unbeatens.

The GMAC Bowl normally gets the second pick from Conference USA, and the early thought was that it might take Houston.

I found my old Peach Bowl Christmas ornament this weekend when I put my tree up. That came from the 1991 season and has to be a true collector’s item. I also remembered that I bought a couple of ornaments last year at the bowl game, and now I have a “Mele Kalikimaka” (Merry Christmas) ornament on my tree.

I never did get an ornament from those two trips to Memphis in the mid-'90’s.

Here’s hoping for a Pirate win this week. A conference title, a trip to the Liberty Bowl and an Elvis Christmas ornament — now that’s a list for Santa!


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12/02/2008 12:50:49 AM


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