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Game 10: ECU 56, Memphis 40


Game Slants
Sunday, November 4, 2007

By Denny O'Brien

Prolific C.J. offsetting Bucs' shaky 'D'

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

MEMPHIS — East Carolina still has miles to sail before it can proclaim itself the King of Conference USA. But the Pirates’ 56-40 victory over Memphis Saturday certainly carved a huge chunk off of that quest.

Most of that was chipped away by the swift feet of running back Chris Johnson, who dashed for a career high 301 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

Plenty more was chiseled by quarterback Patrick Pinkney, who darn near eclipsed the century mark on the ground himself with 94 yards and a 45-yard TD scamper.

All totaled, the Pirates bulldozed past a tame Tigers defense for 491 rushing yards and 641 overall. And had ECU not taken a nap in the second quarter, it easily could have eclipsed a cool 750 for the day.

“The running backs and quarterbacks running the ball did a great job once they got into that second level of turning and making one miss,” Pirates coach Skip Holtz said. “We were the recipient of a bunch of big plays because our backs did a great job of making that one safety miss.

“I think the real difference is the job that (Steve) Shankweiler has done with that offensive line. What that offensive line did today was they got them through to the second level. Once they got there, they can make some things happen in space.”

For Johnson, that often means touchdowns. Long ones. Saturday he blistered the Memphis secondary on scoring runs of 70, 50, 44, and 16 yards, using his explosive speed to widen the gap between himself and chasing tacklers.

Likewise for other ECU runners. In addition to Pinkney’s 94 yards, the Pirates received 46 from Jonathan Williams, many of which were accompanied by a punishing stiff-arm.

Dominique Lindsay also got into the act with a 42-yard effort that included a 22-yard score.

But from the opening drive, it was clear that this game belonged to Johnson. Had he been given a heavier workload, it’s a good bet he would have broken Scott Harley’s single game rushing record of 351 yards.

“The offensive line played great,” Johnson said. “They blocked great and gave me holes to run through. If it wasn’t for the offensive line, none of this would have happened.

“I ran the ball hard all day, and the line helped me out. I made the safety miss and had a lot of big runs.”

The way Johnson and the Pirates opened the game, it appeared as if they might cruise all the way to the title game. ECU torched Memphis with its big-play running game en route to what seemed a comfortable 21-3 first half advantage.

But the Pirates released the accelerator and lost their rhythm offensively. For the final 14 minutes of the first half, ECU struggled to move the chains as neither Pinkney nor Rob Kass were in synch under center.

Meanwhile, the same defense that has struggled against the pass this season resurfaced after its encouraging performance last week.

“It wasn’t pretty on defense,” Holtz said. “But Memphis is a good offensive football team. They’ve been doing that for the last three or four weeks of the season. It’s not like all of a sudden, ‘Where did this come from?’

"They’ve got great receivers. I think (Martin) Hankins is an excellent quarterback.”

He certainly looked it against the Pirates. Hankins spent much of the day dissecting ECU’s secondary, and eventually joined a growing fraternity of quarterbacks who have eclipsed 300 yards passing against the Bucs.

That’s an issue that keeps the Pirates vulnerable anytime they face a halfway capable QB. Unfortunately, that is most occasions in pass-oriented C-USA.

At this stage, Johnson appears to be the best defense the Pirates can offer. Not so much because he keeps the opposing quarterback on the sidelines, but for his big-play ability and knack for reaching paydirt.

In coming games, unless the secondary undergoes a dramatic makeover, the Pirates will need more of what Johnson has generously provided. That is the formula that has placed East Carolina in the driver’s seat in C-USA’s East Division.

And you can bet Johnson will be the main ingredient during the remaining stretch of the league race.

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11/11/2007 12:53:52 AM

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