HATTIESBURG In the end, it didn't matter if East Carolina lost by seven
or 70. That rival Southern Miss pounded the Pirates 51-10 was beside the
Saturday night's Conference USA showdown with the Golden Eagles was one
of those rare occasions when the final score was borderline irrelevant for
There was no C-USA title on the line, no bowl bid for the taking. This
wasn't about impressing the television audience with an entertaining show.
Instead, the stakes were much higher for the Purple and Gold against a
program it once rivaled in the league pecking order. Pride and progress were
on the line in a game for which East Carolina had two weeks to prepare
following a win over Tulane.
The spectacle on the field was akin to many of the Pirates' previous
outings over the past two seasons they were soundly beaten in every phase
of the game.
"I'm disappointed in the way we performed in the first half," Pirates
coach John Thompson said. "Extremely disappointed in that."
"But I'm proud of the way we performed in the second half," he added. "I
saw fight in us in the second half. We've got to do that all the time. We've
got to start doing things right all the time, not just one half."
The Pirates played the first 30 minutes as if they were attending a
lecture on Egyptian cabinet making. There seemed to be little interest in
competing, much less any deep desire to spoil a heavily favored rival's
Offensively, ECU was more anemic than a rattlesnake in December. Aside
from the brief reemergence of senior running back Art Brown in the second
quarter, the Pirates had no hiss, much less any bite for the Southern Miss
There were fumbles lost, dropped passes, and more sacks of battle-worn
ECU quarterback James Pinkney.
On the rare occasion when East Carolina did mount a respectable drive, it
was unable to sustain any momentum once the ball changed hands.
Much of that was due to a defense that lacked the grit and swagger it
displayed against Tulane. Though the Golden Eagles' attack wasn't
overwhelming 383 total yards USM found little resistance from the
Pirates when its foot was pressed firmly against the accelerator.
"You look at it early," Thompson said. "We're 35-0 at the half.
"But you look at it all, you can pinpoint how they got in the end zone.
Whether it was a turnover, or whether it was a big play in doing it in our
It was an eerily familiar script for East Carolina. Only the opposing
colors and setting changed.
A turnover here, a punt return there and a manageable seven-point deficit
snowballed into a 35-point hole much like the storylines against West
Virginia and Louisville.
"We got gashed by them," Thompson said about USM's return specialists.
"The one time there we thought we had him down and we have some guys who
don't give the effort that they're supposed to give to come down there and
"We've got to get the effort and get it done. We're going to keep
fighting as I've said all along. We've got to get some things fixed, though.
We've come too far and it's too far into this thing to let this continue to
Much too far to see the same mistakes persist on a weekly basis.
Typically the trend for a team dominated by youth is underscored by
steady improvement with each game. However the case can be made that in
nearly every facet, the Pirates regressed Saturday to a level parallel to
Make that lower if you factor the lack of enthusiasm with which ECU
At this stage, the Pirates can't afford to perform with a half-deflated
spirit. With no margin of error, East Carolina is hardly in a position to
sleepwalk onto an opponent's field and expect an even fight.
Now the Pirates sit 1-5, with the prospects of a respectable finish low.
Next is an Army club with a renewed gridiron outlook fueled from the emotion
of two-consecutive wins.
It's an occasion on which East Carolina will hold a definite talent
advantage. Chances are, though, next week's winner will be determined by the
team that shows the most of what the Pirates lacked against Southern Miss.