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GAME DAY SLANTS

West Virginia 20, East Carolina 15
Saturday, Sept. 24, 2005
By Denny O'Brien
Story posted Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005

Mountaineers are gauge for progress

THE VITALS

Scoreboard: C-USA teams & ECU opponents

2005 Bonesville.net

MORGANTOWN East Carolina will eventually win in Morgantown.

One golden day sometime in the future, ECU will take a talented, tested, and experienced team into the Mountain State and beat its flagship school. All of the football stars will align in the Pirates' favor, and the 0-for-forever drought at the House of Blues will finally be erased.

That's my prediction following the Pirates' 20-15 loss at Mountaineer Field on Saturday.

Years afterward, it will be remembered as a cornerstone moment in the program's proud history. Because if there is one school against which ECU should measure itself on the gridiron, West Virginia is as good as any.

Of course, all that logic is contingent on one, if not two important factors: East Carolina's continued improvement and perhaps an extension of the series beyond the 2009 season.

Judging solely by the outcome Saturday, ECU may not need a series renewal. The Pirates put a legitimate scare into a far more gifted team in an environment that can be as tough as any.

But for the better portion of the second half, Morgantown seemed more like a Ghost Town and the ECU defense was the sheriff.

"Defensively, I thought we did a much better job of holding our gaps," Pirates head coach Skip Holtz said. "It really wasn't a big scheme difference from a week ago. It was a difference of them feeling the hurt of Wake Forest, watching the film and seeing where we could have stopped so many things that hurt us.

"The big talk before the game was playing seven seconds at a time, 70 times in a row, do your job. That's what they did today. I think it's a real tribute to the defense, how they came out, the improvements that they made, and how they competed. This is a program that prides themselves on their toughness. I thought (the defense) stood in there toe-to-toe with them from a run game standpoint."

There's the understatement of the Holtz tenure to date. Not only did East Carolina stand tough against the physical Mountaineers' rushing attack, it won the battle in the trenches from start to finish.

After surrendering 407 yards against a less-talented Wake Forest bunch, 527 not 127 seemed the more likely scenario. Perhaps even more unlikely, though, was the manner in which the Pirates struggled to find paydirt, despite creating four turnovers and generating favorable field position on several occasions.

"I felt like we started out running the ball," Holtz said. "Then I felt like in the middle that we were protecting the passer really well.

"Then there at the end, James started coming around and doing some really good things. But offensively, they really gelled today. We never got the whole thing rolling where we could put a drive together. There were flashes that looked real good, and then there were flashes that looked real bad. And that's what we've got to turn and eliminate as a staff and as a football team offensively."

Three games in, ECU is definitely a much-improved outfit that appears capable of beating many of the opponents that remain on its schedule. Based solely on the Pirates' performance to date, Southern Miss should now be placed in that category.

If East Carolina performs as well next week defensively and improves noticeably on offense, there is no reason to think it can't defeat its greatest conference nemesis at home. Considering the Golden Eagles don't match the Mountaineers' personnel, the Pirates don't appear to be the heavy underdog that many predicted when the season began.

"I think we made great strides from Duke to Wake Forest," Holtz said. "And I think we've made great strides from Wake Forest to West Virginia.

"We just can't get discouraged being this close the last two weeks against two pretty good Wake Forest and West Virginia teams. And we've got to keep getting better, keep improving, and keep building this thing."

Looking into the future, the Pirates have two more chances to climb that Morgantown mountain before the current agreement between the two schools ends. If ECU is to have any chance of winning on West Virginia's turf, it must improve every every facet of its program.

It wouldn't have taken a perfect performance by the Pirates to win this Saturday, and that was against a Mountaineers club that possessed more speed and bulk. Even so, ECU still has miles to travel and speed bumps to avoid before it will defeat an opponent of WVU's caliber on the road.

The 2007 showdown in Morgantown will provide a good litmus test for the Pirates' progress.

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02/23/2007 02:00:46 AM

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