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Same ol', same ol' for ECU

By Denny O'Brien

The post-game slants
and audio bytes, as
penned and digitally
recorded by staff
writer Denny O'Brien.

Game No. 1: ECU at UC — The Vitals

• O'Brien: Same ol', same ol' for ECU
• Long Labor Day for J.T. and Pirates
• Box Score & Statistics
• Audio: J.T., ECU players, & 'Shank'
• C-USA Standings, Schedule & Sores
• ECU Schedule, Scores & Links
Cincinnati's Derick Eddington (26) runs for a touchdown in the third quarter as East Carolina's Travis Heath (45) tries to catch him in Cincinnati, Monday, Sept. 1, 2003. (AP Photo: Tom Uhlman)

CINCINNATI — The problems that plagued East Carolina over the past two seasons apparently have persisted into 2003. Only a few of the faces and schemes have changed.

What figured to be a year of marked improvement — especially on defense — has begun more like a season of confirmation that the Pirates have slipped considerably in the Conference USA pecking order. The days of competing for the league brass suddenly seem like a distant memory.

And unless first-year coach John Thompson can concoct an early-season miracle, a 40-3 loss to Cincinnati on Labor Day will seem like a vacation compared to the remainder of this year's slate.

"There are a lot of things that we've got to get so much better on," Thompson said. "We've got to be a better football team, which we will. We've been a tough football team all camp."

"We got it stuck to us pretty good today by a good football team and a well-coached football team. We didn't do anything all day to create a lot of momentum."

That's an understatement.

From the very first series, East Carolina appeared as if it was physically inferior to a Cincinnati program over which it historically has been dominant. The Bearcats ran over, through, and around the Pirates' demoralized defense in painfully reminiscent fashion.

By the time the final canon blew, the Bearcats had trampled their way to a 361-yard rushing performance, seemingly without breaking a sweat. Even third-stringer Derick Eddington took advantage of truck-sized holes en route to an 11-carry, 138-yard day.

"We felt like we worked awfully hard on our running game in the spring and the fall," Cincinnati offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler said. "When I came here, we kind of made a commitment to run the ball."

An awfully firm one at that.

On offense, ECU could term any play that produced positive yardage an overwhelming success. The Pirates' running game sputtered from the very first carry, and aside from a 21-yard dash from Marvin Townes, never shifted out of neutral.

When Pirates' quarterbacks Desmond Robinson and Paul Troth dropped back to pass, it often was in third-and-forever situations.

"They're a good defense," Thompson said. "A real good-looking defense."

"We knew they'd be fast. They got around the corner a couple of times on us and they just stuck it to us. We've got to get better."

Especially at blocking and tackling. Other than the 17-tackle performance by linebacker Chris Moore, the Pirates lacked the physical presence on which it worked extensively this summer to develop.

About the only consolation ECU could take away from their Monday afternoon mauling was the quick turnaround in five days.

"You don't have time to lay around and feel bad about it," Thompson said. "You've got to go to work."

"We'll go to work tonight on the plane going back and get ready to go on Saturday. This is a physical team that we've got coming in with West Virginia. I got a chance to watch them on Saturday, and they are a very, very physical, tough team."

For a team thumped by a Cincinnati club in a rebuilding mode, that's not a comforting thought.

Tough debut

After two years waiting in the wings, Robinson got his first chance to start under center. The Pirates QB completed his first three passes, including a 34-yarder to Copper, but struggled the rest of the way.

The Rock Hill, SC junior rarely checked off his primary receiver — Copper — and was too quick to run when the pocket broke down.

"I think I did all right in some areas," Robinson said. "I was a little rusty on some throws. I just came out and tried to help the team win, we just didn't get the job done."

Thompson liked the way his QBs battled and noted that they were often placed in difficult situations.

"I thought Des went in there and competed and did some things," Thompson said. "We put him in some bad spots also."

"We absolutely put Paul in some tough spots. We've just got to get our running game going and take some pressure off of him."

Father knows best

Monday's victory produced mixed feelings for Shankweiler. Not only was he going against his son — ECU tight end, Kort — but it also was against the program where he spent the bulk of his career.

"You spend ten years at a place, you have a lot invested in those kids," Shankweiler said. "But you know, they did a heck of a job. They're struggling right now, but they played hard."

"There's not a happier guy on that field than I am, but then again, there's that other side of it. You want to see those kids do well. Just do well some other week."

Penalties costly

With East Carolina struggling to compete physically Monday, mental errors were the last thing the Pirates needed. That's exactly what happened on two drives that were extended by penalties.

"No excuse," Thompson said. "Absolutely no excuse."

"Two of those were roughing the passer. They're going to protect that guy. You go by and you hit him, they're going to protect him. We've just got to be more aware of that."

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This page updated: 02/23/2007 01:52:08 AM.

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