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Pirate Notebook No. 320
Monday, September 17, 2007

By Denny O'Brien

Early power slate has its downside

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.


For the second year in a row, Denny O'Brien is a member of the voting panel for the Harris Interactive College Football Poll, commissioned by the Bowl Championship Series. O'Brien, who was nominated to the panel by Conference USA, is the editor of The Pirates' Chest magazine, a senior writer for Bonesville The Magazine and co-host of WNCT-AM Talk 1070's Game Day Countdown Show.

The Harris Poll is a component of the BCS Standings. This season's first Harris poll will be released on Sept. 23. This season's first BCS Standings, which also take into account the USA Today Coaches Poll and an average of six computer service rankings, will be released on Oct. 14.

Here is O'Brien's initial 2007 Harris Poll ballot:

  1. LSU
  2. Florida
  3. USC
  4. Oklahoma
  5. West Virginia
  6. California (Cal)
  7. Ohio State
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Texas
10. Penn State
11. Rutgers
12. South Carolina
13. Oregon
14. Boston College
15. Alabama
16. Clemson
17. Kentucky
18. Texas Tech
19. Louisville
20. Virginia Tech
21. Arkansas
22. Georgia Tech
23. Nebraska
24. Georgia
25. Texas A&M


BVL: O'Brien serves repeat stint on BCS voting panel
O'Brien: Early power slate has its downside

Conference USA shouldn’t expect a ‘Thank You’ card from East Carolina. That’s because the league office did the Pirates no favors when it released the 2007 schedule.

By squeezing Southern Miss and Houston into September, the conference ensured the Pirates of owning the most difficult early-season docket in C-USA.

“That’s why I came to East Carolina, to play this type of schedule,” Pirates linebacker Quentin Cotton said. “This is what Coach Holtz said we were going to do when he got here.

“That’s what we train hard for. That’s what we go out for every summer. This is a 12-month job, and (this schedule) is what we do it for.”

Maybe so. But no amount of physical training can prepare you mentally for an opening grind that includes two national powers, two intense rivals, and the defending conference champ.

That’s brutal, especially for a program still overflowing with inexperience.

Not that you can pin the schedule entirely on the C-USA office. In fact, television is the primary dictator of when your games are played. And there are also the schedules of other leagues that must be considered.

But you have to believe that there were other available dates on the schedule where Southern Miss and Houston could have fit.

Besides, you would think C-USA wouldn’t want to frontload the schedule with its most intriguing games. And if the annual East Carolina-Southern Miss matchup doesn’t qualify as the biggest, it’s at least among the top three.

That goes without mentioning it is one of the very few pure rivalries that exists in C-USA. To position it on the third week of the season is a failure to maximize the drama and attention the league could draw towards the latter portion of the season.

Kicking woes

ECU’s kicking troubles could be wearing on Pirates coach Skip Holtz. When Ben Hartman pulled a 27-yard attempt in the first quarter wide, it marked the fourth miss in two games for the sophomore kicker.

And each miss has been from relatively short range.

“I don’t know how many we’ve missed inside the 20 at this point, but we’ve missed enough for a lifetime,” Holtz said. “When Ben came off the field, he said ‘I just didn’t feel like I was in a rhythm.’ Well, tell me what I’ve got to do to get you into a rhythm?

“I don’t know why I’ve got to ask that question. I’ve never had that response.”

The Pirates’ kicking problems aren’t isolated with Hartman, either. The ECU punting unit has been inconsistent and relatively unable to provide an advantage in field position.

“The kicking game didn’t have a say in it,” Holtz said. “I thought we were very poor punting the football. I don’t know what the stats say because we had one that we kicked it about 80 yards, but I don’t think any of the rest of them went over 40.

"When you’re trying to flip the field, it just made it really hard. I think our defense was there on their heels quite a bit.”

Punter Matt Dodge averaged 41.3 yards per kick against Southern Miss, but that was aided by a 57-yard boot.

No free pass

After ECU exhausted its final timeout with just more than a minute remaining, some questioned why Holtz didn’t give USM a free pass to paydirt.

Doing so would have conserved at least a minute of game clock for Patrick Pinkney to engineer a game-tying drive, albeit with no timeouts. But Holtz said that scenario was never considered.

“No, I didn’t (consider it),” Holtz said. “I kept saying, if they kick a field goal, at least it gives us an opportunity to block it or for them to miss it. I’m not going to lay down and say, OK, there’s seven.

“The best that we could do at that point was just tie it. There were a lot of things that could have happened. I wasn’t about to quit on our defense. No, I just couldn’t do that.”

Different look

It took a half for East Carolina to find its comfort zone on offense. USM’s aggressive approach kept the Pirates rattled and on their heels for much of the first half.

That resulted in only 89 yards of offense by halftime, including a paltry four total yards in the second quarter.

“It was a lot of stuff that we hadn’t seen before,” receiver Dwayne Harris said. “It was a lot more man, and they didn’t play as much zone. We’re use to seeing zone, not much man because we’ve got a lot of playmakers on this team.

"They came out and went playmaker for playmaker. They made more plays.”

Except when Harris had the ball. The redshirt freshman caught four passes for 55 yards, and showed that he might be the Pirates’ most gifted runner in traffic.

Send an e-mail message to Denny O'Brien.

Dig into Denny O'Brien's Bonesville archives.

09/17/2007 02:51:44 AM

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