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From the Anchor Desk
Wednesday, October 7, 2008

By Brian Bailey

Black and blue vs. Barnum & Bailey

By Brian Bailey
All rights reserved.

Conference USA has always had this weird personality about it.

That’s what you get when you mix the east and the west. You get two totally different ways to play the same game.

"They're different, the two divisions,” said East Carolina coach Skip Holtz. “When you look at UCF, Marshall, Southern Miss and Memphis, they all have very physical defenses. They are big, strong, and physical and try to play lower-scoring games.

"These teams want to control the ball, punt it away, have great special teams, play solid defense and win lower-scoring games."

The East Division of Conference USA is black-and-blue power football. It’s three yards and a cloud of dust. It’s a no risk, no frills formula.

It worked for East Carolina last year and so far it’s been pretty successful after Pirate wins over Central Florida and Marshall.

The West Division of Conference USA is more like the circus. It’s a high-flying, high-risk attack that results in hundreds of yards and plenty of points.

Notice, there is no “d” in West in more ways then one.

Houston was ranked 12th nationally and was in discussions as a possible BCS buster.

Enter Texas-El Paso, and the Miners put almost 60 points on the board in a 58-41 victory.

One former ECU coach used to call it basketball on grass.

"When you go to the West Division, it is full of wide-open offenses," Holtz said at his weekly media luncheon. "The quarterbacks over there with Houston's Case Keenum, SMU's Mitchell and UTEP's Trevor Vittatoe are all very impressive.

"They're much more wide open on offense and throwing the ball all over the field. They're scoring an awful lot of points. It's almost like two totally different leagues. It's definitely more pass-happy in the West."

It’s like bar-b-cue. The gourmet treat that we get in Greenville is much different than that stuff out west. Still, it’s all bar-b-cue, isn’t it?

It’s the same way with football. It’s the same game, but it’s certainly a different way to play it. There are certainly different styles, but Conference USA is the only conference in the nation where the football is so different in the respective divisions.

This week, the Pirates get a big taste of the West Division of Conference USA with the trip to Southern Methodist.

The Mustangs are coached by June Jones, who turned the University of Hawaii into a high-scoring football power.

Jones is off to a good start in his second year at SMU. His club has already doubled its win total of a year ago. At 2-2, Jones and the Ponies will throw the football all over the corral.

"It's going to be a challenge for our defense this week,” said Holtz. “SMU is going to be totally different from anything we've played so far this season. The difference is the space SMU, Houston or UTEP puts you in. They make you defend the entire field, sideline to sideline. They're going to score a lot of points.”

It comes down to East vs. West. Will it be a vinegar sauce or a red sauce for the bar-b-cue?

"It's going to be about which team's will is going to be forced," said Holtz. "They have been a very active defense; we have been a very stagnant defense. We have to keep the ball in front of us.

"That's one of the neat match-ups when the East Division teams play the West Division teams. It's about who is going to step up. Is it going to be the West's offense or the East's defense?"

It’s a Saturday night rodeo at the SMU Corral for the Pirates. It should be a night full of fireworks as East meets West in Conference USA.


E-mail Brian Bailey.

Brian Bailey Archives

10/07/2009 03:50 AM


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