Conference USA breakdowns and matchups
O'Brien's Game Day Preview
Saturday, September 7, 2002
Pirates, Cards looking to
salvage pride up front
USA Preseason Preview and Power Poll package which appeared in
the just-published Bonesville.net The Magazine was
written by Denny O'Brien. It was inadvertently attributed to Ron
Cherubini because of a technical error.
Wins and losses are often
defined by the ground game. East Carolina and Louisville will attest to
The Pirates and Cardinals
entered last weekend as heavy favorites against traditionally weak in-state
opponents. However, ineffective ground games and surprising performances by
the opposition spurred upset specials.
Louisville's problems were
expected to a certain extent, considering the Cardinals didn't possess an
imposing ground attack last season and are breaking in four new starters
along the offensive front.
Yet, you would have expected
the U of L to produce more than 55 rushing yards against a Kentucky defense
that was among the nation's worst last season. The Cards' struggles on the
ground also had a direct effect on the passing game, where UK corners
clamped down on Louisville receivers, allowing the front seven to pressure
QB sensation Dave Ragone all night.
"We have eight different guys
and we're still trying to find the five best," Smith said of his young
offensive line. "We struggled."
"They (Kentucky) brought a lot
of things at us and we just didn't pick much up. If you can't block any
body, it's tough to win. It's pretty simple: you have to block somebody."
ECU's problem last Saturday
wasn't so much its lack of personnel as it was a muddy field, which wasn't
conducive to the cutback running styles of fullbacks Art Brown and Marvin
Townes. Additionally, head coach Steve Logan suggested that a few blocking
assignments were missed by new personnel, which led to some of the
breakdowns in the Pirates' ground attack.
That has been an area of great
concentration for the Pirates this week.
"We are going to try and make
some yards and run forward rather than sideways," Logan said. "We are going
to do some things different with our schemes and get Tutu Moye blocking this
week and he is going to be the big difference this game."
East Carolina at Wake Forest
Logan insists that revenge is not a
motivating factor at East Carolina. But rest assured, the Pirates remember
the bitter taste Wake Forest left in their mouths in last season's opener.
Listen to the Flagship Station's Scouting
The Deacons, who were making their debut
under new head coach Jim Grobe, surprised the Pirates with new schemes that
were a modified presentation of what Air Force deployed when Grobe was an
assistant there. It took the Bucs a half to make adjustments, but that
didn't provide enough time to come back from a 15-0 deficit.
With a fresh game film in hand, Logan feels
much better about preparing for the Deacons this time around.
"Defensively, we've got a little better grip
on what it is they want to do," he said. "Just the fact that we have a film
this year is going to help us prepare.
When ECU has the ball
After struggling last week in the
Wallace-Wade muck, expect the Pirates to make a concerted effort with the
ground game on Saturday. With the weatherman calling for clear skies and
warm temperatures, Brown and Townes should have a fast track on which to
A better ground game should make the aerial
attack much more productive. ECU's receivers struggled catching a wet
pigskin against Duke, but won't have to contend with such conditions in
With better production by the ground game
and a more reliable receiving corps, quarterback Paul Troth should find a
better rhythm against the Deacs. And when you consider that Northern
Illinois moved the ball at will on Wake, you have to think the Pirates will
be highly successful on offense.
When Wake has the ball
The Deacons received good news with word
that running back Tarence Williams would return against East Carolina.
However that's not what has Logan most concerned.
"Tarence is a good back and I'm sure they
want him back and he will help them," Logan said. "But the guy that has my
attention in number 32 (Ovie Mughelli), that's the guy. He is a big powerful
man and a game-changer."
That Duke fullback Alex Wade sloshed and
muscled through Pirate defenders on Saturday is great reason for concern.
Mughelli, The man they call "Chocolate Thunder", should get called early and
often along with a host of other runners that contributed to Wake's 344
rushing yards against NIU.
QB James MacPherson isn't a world-beater,
but that is not his defined role in Grobe's spread-out rushing attack.
He'll toss it up anywhere from 15-20 times, though, throwing mostly off
play-action and roll-outs.
With the Pirates' defense designed to
counter speed with speed, look for the astute Wake coaching staff to oppose
it with power.
The Pirates appear to have a decided
advantage on special teams, which likely cost the Deacons a win in week
one. Two blocked kicks and a shanked field goal more than provided the
difference for the Huskies last Thursday.
ECU did have a couple of blunders, including
a missed extra point by Kevin Miller and a misplay by punt returner Richard
Alston that almost cost the Pirates a touchdown. Chalk both of those up to
The Pirates' strong kicking game should
provide a nice field position advantage, which could loom large in an
expected close game.
It's easy to see both defenses struggling
against the schemes they'll be presented. So suggesting that the ECU-Wake
rematch will be high-scoring isn't a stretch. In a close game with no
decided home-field advantage, always go with the team most likely to present
the most balance and has the better special teams. The Pirates have the
edge in both facets, and should squeak by with a 31-27 victory.
C-USA Power Poll
1. Southern Miss
(1-0) - As predicted, the Golden Eagles needed little more
than a sleepwalk in week one. New QB Mickey D'Angelo is an
improvement over Jeff Kelly.
2. Cincinnati (1-0) - Comeback victory over TCU makes the
'Cats a serious C-USA contender.
3. Memphis (1-0)
- We'll find out just how good the Tigers are this week.
4. Houston (1-0)
- A victory over rival Rice is no small potatoes. Especially
when it's your first in over a year.
(0-1) - BCS or Bust? Bust. Unless the O-line shapes up, the
Cards could be in for a middle-of-the-pack finish. Hard to
believe, isn't it?
Christian (0-1) - The Frogs were thinking C-USA title with
eight minutes to play. After just one loss, it would be tough
to suggest they're out of the title race, but history says
7. East Carolina
(0-1) - It's tough to evaluate the Pirates based on Saturday's
conditions. But it's easy to drop them three notches after
bowing to Duke.
8. Tulane (1-0) - A win over Southern doesn't warrant a
jump. Beating Houston, however, would mean a big boost.
9. Army (0-0) -
Black Knights move up despite the off week. Considering UAB's
performance, it's a good bet they'll stay out of the cellar.
10. UAB (0-1) -
There weren't a lot of positives you could find in the Blazers
loss to the Gators. Well, they did make it out alive.
Holy Cross at Army
Head coach Todd Berry insists things are
looking up at West Point. They definitely are in week one.
Army won't have to break a sweat against the
Crusaders, which is an unusual situation in West Point these days. The
Black Knights will have the opportunity to do something that hasn't occurred
often during Berry's tenure — record a blowout victory.
Berry says new starting quarterback Reggie
Nevels reminds him of former ECU star Marcus Crandell. He'll look very
Crandell-esque in a lopsided 40-10 victory.
Tulane at Houston
Considering recent history, it's tough to
imagine either Tulane or Houston getting out of the gates at 2-0. But that
will definitely be the case for one of them Saturday.
Houston coach Dana Dimel has found a
star-in-the-making in quarterback Barrick Nealy, who shredded the Rice
defense for 99-yards rushing and 161-yards (11-15) passing. The Coogs' new
run-pass threat had plenty of help from a resurgent running game,
highlighted by running back Joffrey Reynolds' 28-carry, 161-yad performance.
Tulane has plenty of offensive weapons, too,
but the defensive advantage would seem to fall toward Houston. Expect the
Cougars to control the clock and the game, 27-17.
Louisville at Duke
And so the streak ends. Is it time for a
different one to begin?
Kentucky may be bottom of the barrel in SEC
land, but the Wildcats are much better than Duke. So is Louisville.
The Devils won't benefit from a rain-soaked
field this week, and as bad as the Cardinals' O-Line is, expect major
production from Dave Ragone and Co. Duke QBs Adam Smith and Chris Dapolito
should find the going tough against a stingy Louisville secondary -- Cards
34, Duke 10.
Texas Christian at Northwestern
Only an overtime heartbreaker can deliver a
more crushing blow than an all-out pummeling. That's why, with Texas
Christian having a short week to prepare, Northwestern could hold a slight
The Wildcats won't hold many more
advantages, though, in what appears to be an all-out rebuilding campaign in
Evanston. TCU, on the other hand, is experienced on both sides of the ball
and is, without question, much more talented.
The Frogs shouldn't have to break much of a
sweat in this one, jumping all over Northwestern, 33-14.
Illinois at Southern Miss
The Kirt Kittner era is officially over in
Champaign. Fighting Illini faithful came to that realization in a 33-20
loss to Missouri last week.
It doesn't get easier for Illinois, which
must travel to Hattiesburg to face a Southern Miss team that seems to have
found its swagger. Southern Miss has its best all-around defense in years,
and quarterback Mickey D'Angelo is an upgrade in talent under center.
Now-healthy running back Derrick Nix will
continue to make up for lost time, finding paydirt early and often, while
D'Angelo will continue to cultivate an already beautiful relationship with
his receivers. Meanwhile, Illinois will find the yards tough to come by --
Eagles 30, Illini 16.
Troy State at UAB
It's not exactly the Iron Bowl, but this
Battle of 'Bama should be somewhat interesting.
OK, not that interesting.
Watson Brown has more questions than answers
this season, and the defense, which has been UAB's stronghold in recent
years, is suspect. Troy State is no pushover, either. Just ask Mississippi
State, which lost to the Trojans last year, and Nebraska, which struggled to
a two-touchdown victory last week.
Troy State is the program on the rise in
Alabama, while UAB is the program on the decline. That much will be evident
in a 23-17 Trojan victory.
Game of the Week:
Memphis at Ole Miss
Passing yardage won't be in short order in
this Mid-South showdown. Defense, on the other hand, just might be.
Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning is
following in his father's footsteps and has the Rebels back in the thick of
things in the tough SEC. The younger brother of Payton, Eli has the same
rifle arm possessed by father and sibling, and probably boasts better
footwork and pocket presence.
Directly opposite of the latest Manning
prodigy will be Danny Wimprine, who shattered the Memphis single-game record
for touchdown passes with five. He seems to have found a steady target in
Travis Anglin, who began last season as the Tigers' starting signal caller.
In the end, this one could come down to to
which team has the better defense and can achieve the most balance on
offense. On paper, the Tigers appear to hold a slight edge in both areas,
which is why they could sneak out of Oxford with a victory, 28-27.
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02/23/2007 01:47:10 AM