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Game 4: West Virginia 48, ECU 7


Game Slants
Sunday, September 23, 2007

By Denny O'Brien

Pirates uninspiring in Morgantown

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

MORGANTOWN, WV – Sooner or later East Carolina is bound to win a game in Morgantown.

That was my conclusion following the Pirates’ previous trip to Milan Puskar Stadium, a narrow 20-15 loss in 2005 that sent a scare throughout the Mountain State.

Perhaps it’s a prediction that’s worth revisiting. After West Virginia’s 48-7 drubbing of the Pirates on Saturday, a win in Morgantown appears far from imminent.

It certainly won’t happen while the dazzling duo of Steve Slaton and Pat White is donning West Virginia blue, carving through the ECU defense with little resistance. Nor anytime ECU marches an inexperienced, penalty-plagued club onto the unforgiving turf of Mountaineer Field.

And certainly not when the Pirates play with the collective enthusiasm and purpose of the crowd at the local Bingo parlor.

That much was made certain when West Virginia emptied its depth chart before intermission.

“The way those guys ran, broke tackles, twisted, turned, I thought they played an excellent game,” Pirates coach Skip Holtz said. “I thought we played one of our worst games of the year.

“We didn’t tackle very well on defense, and that’s the thing that we’ve challenged our players with the last couple of years playing this bunch. We were going to have some open-field opportunities, we were going to have some challenges, and we were really going to have to step up. You’ve got to wrap these guys up. They broke tackles.”

Plenty of them. West Virginia broke tackles behind the line, between the tackles, and in the open field. The Mountaineers pushed the pile, ran past it, and on several occasions ran over it.

The offensive scheme often isolated ECU’s defenders, and the Mountaineers took advantage each time they generated a one-on-one scenario. Enough so to amass nearly 400 yards rushing, a statistic that was slightly suppressed based on West Virginia’s relative indifference in the final quarter.

Historically, this series has produced its share of forgettable moments for ECU. There was the 37-17 loss in 2002 during which the Mountaineers rushed for nearly a millennium. And it wasn’t much better in 2004 when only boredom prevented West Virginia from scoring 60.

But this was unexpected. Despite the fact that West Virginia was a heavy favorite, few felt the Pirates would be shipwrecked before the second quarter.

Given the strides the Pirates have made since Holtz arrived, the days of 40-point blowouts seemed a distant memory. On an afternoon when ECU reverted to its days of arm-tackling and poor discipline, it became a painful reality.

So painful that East Carolina more closely resembled the ensemble that lost 20 games in the two seasons before Holtz arrived than the one that went to a bowl last year.

“We’ll sit down as coaches and watch the film and see where we are,” Holtz said. “I think it’s a thing where we played a Top 5 team in the country today.

“I said we’d learn a lot about our team in September. Well, you know, we’re not a Top 5 team. We’ve been here three years, and we’re not at this level.”

That much was known long before East Carolina unloaded the bus. While the first three performances indicated that ECU could at least compete against most of its schedule, they also revealed too many weaknesses that elite teams would exploit.

Now the overriding question is whether or not the list of mediocre teams awaiting East Carolina can do the same.

While there are no opposing players the caliber of Slayton, White, or Darius Reynaud remaining on the docket, ECU has proven that its margin for error remains slim. There isn’t an opponent on the schedule against whom the Pirates can assume a victory, nor is there one that presents an unbeatable challenge.

Truthfully, East Carolina is caught somewhere between a competitive ebb and flow in its gridiron history. In the fast food culture of college football, it’s not the position ECU partisans were seeking at this stage.

But that’s the only conclusion following Saturday’s demoralization in Morgantown.

Looking back at similar performances against West Virginia, it’s unfair to compare East Carolina’s program now with those then. The coaching staff and personnel have experienced a significant upgrade, while the overall mentality within the program is infinitely better.

Even so, ECU’s uninspiring effort Saturday was nothing short of a time-warp performance.

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09/23/2007 01:36:01 AM

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