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Game 1: Virginia Tech 17, East Carolina 7


Slants of the Game
Sunday, September 2, 2007

By Denny O'Brien

Pirates' stature enhanced in loss

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

BLACKSBURG, VA – East Carolina coach Skip Holtz received a generous raise following the Pirates successful 2006 campaign. After Saturday’s season opener, he deserves another.

Without the services of his starting quarterback, Holtz was tasked with preparing for a ninth-ranked Virginia Tech bunch that boasted college football’s most decorated defense. And he had to do so with the anticipation of an ESPN audience and an emotional stage unmatched by any other at hostile Lane Stadium.

That’s not the scenario any head coach would script for an opener – and it’s one in which some might wilt. But not Holtz. Instead he challenged his defense to play more physical than the celebrated “Lunch Pale” bunch in maroon.

Despite the 17-7 loss, the Pirates’ effort was deserving of a lunchbox of their own.

“This team is not afraid of contact,” Holtz said. “This is a very physical team that we played in Virginia Tech. We challenged them.

“We told them we were going to have to make it a physical, hard-hitting game. They didn’t shy from it. They knew the challenge. I was proud of the way they came out here and competed, the way they hit, and the way they lowered their shoulder... We challenged our defense more than we schemed for Virginia Tech’s offense.”

Those challenges obviously were heard.

Holding Virginia Tech’s offense to a paltry 33 rushing yards is a testament to how far the program has advanced in the short time Holtz has guided it. To do it without relying on trickery should stir optimism moving forward.

Offensively, Holtz deserves credit for keeping ECU’s quarterbacking plans private following the Rob Kass suspension. Though he confirmed that both Brett Clay and Patrick Pinkney would play, there was no mention of Dwayne Harris taking snaps.

“We don’t have one who is good enough to do everything,” Holtz said. “But I was really pleased. I thought Patrick showed me an awful lot today.

“I was really proud of the way he competed today. We felt like we didn’t just want to beat up Patrick. Patrick’s the more mobile quarterback of two.”

That showed the moment Pinkney took the field. His nifty footwork ignited a running game that was going nowhere prior to his appearance. And when Holtz called his number in the passing game, Pinkney at least proved serviceable against the Hokies’ stingy D.

Much of that can be attributed to a new offensive approach that was seemingly tailored to Pinkney’s strengths. Quarterback draws, the option, and roll-outs all were added to the menu, and Pinkney showed poise with his execution under fire.

“The offense that we’ve been practicing (in camp) was the one that Brett Clay ran today,” Holtz said. “Really that was about 30 percent of what we ended up doing today.

“We said that a thousand pound weight needs to be lifted, and everybody needs to lift 100 pounds. It’s unfortunate that this football team was thrown the curveball that it was a week ago, but that was what we had to do to give our team a chance to win. We felt like we had to start to intermix this other offensive football team. I think we learned a lot about our team today.”

He certainly learned that his team can match up physically with one of the toughest programs in college football. He also learned that his team can shake off adversity and perform comfortably on a national stage.

Now the challenge for Holtz is to make a more long-term resolution with the quarterback position. Given Pinkney’s performance, it’s tough not to hand him the reigns next week against UNC-Chapel Hill.

If so, you can bet he will be well-prepared. That certainly was the case against Virginia Tech.

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09/02/2007 04:04:35 AM

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