Game 11: Marshall 26, ECU 7
Sunday, November 11, 2007
By Denny O'Brien
Pirates lack championship
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HUNTINGTON, WV — In this perplexing season
of college football upsets, East Carolina’s quest for a Conference USA
championship couldn’t find immunity.
With the road to the league title game
paved with two league cupcakes, the Pirates looked more like the soft
dessert to complete Marshall’s conference meal. And instead of ECU dropping
the hammer on the league cellar dweller, it looked more like the bottom
feeder in this lopsided match-up.
That the Pirates could perform with so
little purpose is mind-bending considering both the stakes and the setting.
ECU was the one with a championship in sight, and it by far possessed the
better overall personnel on the field and staff on the sidelines.
Marshall must have missed the memo.
The Herd was supposedly DOA and should have
played a gracious host to East Carolina’s Cirque-de-Touchdown Tour. Instead,
the Herd defense decided to stage an impressive show of its own, limiting
the Pirates to 92 first-half yards and an oversized bagel on the scoreboard.
Meanwhile, the Herd offense continued that
painfully familiar trend of proficient passing against ECU’s inept
“I was very impressed with (Marshall QB
Bernard) Morris,” Pirates coach Skip Holtz said after the game. “I think the
opening drive is probably an example of a lot of what happened in this game.
“We kind of dropped out and played a lot of
zone coverage and he turned, and he’s very patient, and he’s very accurate.
He took the underneath stuff, and they took about a nine-minute drive down
the field and they scored.”
It’s not like this Marshall team boasted
Chad Pennington or Randy Moss. And, no, that wasn’t Byron Leftwich manning
the huddle, instead a less heralded but impressively accurate Morris.
He skillfully diced East Carolina’s
secondary as the Herd completely controlled the Pirates from the opening
kick, owning the ball for nearly 38 minutes of valuable clock. Morris
completed 24-of-32 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing
for 126 and a 75-yard score.
All totaled, the Marshall offense ransacked
the Pirates for 477 total yards, and it could have been more had it not
released the accelerator slightly in the fourth quarter.
But as bad as ECU’s defense is — and it has
been borderline embarrassing at times — it’s not the fundamental reason
behind this bone-numbing loss. The Pirates’ inability to establish any
rhythm offensively, more than anything, sent ECU home with a sour stomach.
“We did not play one of our better games on
offense,” Holtz said. “We couldn’t make first downs.
“I think a lot of that is attributed to
their defense. I think their linebackers are very aggressive. They played
extremely physical, and I thought they owned the line of scrimmage. I know
Coach (Mark) Snyder made a big point last week about losing the line of
Marshall shoved East Carolina around like a
backyard bully, delivering most of the punishing blows and winning almost
every scrum. About the only time the Pirates displayed any sort of swagger
was with an occasional push or verbal lashing long after the whistle was
“Very frustrating,” ECU senior offensive
lineman Josh Coffman said. “We had our opportunities, but couldn’t take
advantage of them.
“Our coaches prepared us for pretty much
everything they were doing. They executed it well. That might have
contributed to our slow start, but I feel like we kind of shot ourselves in
the foot a few times today. It’s tough to succeed when you do that.”
It’s also tough to digest the fact that ECU
managed only a touchdown against a defense that surrendered 48 to New
Hampshire. That’s I-AA New Hampshire, which routed the Herd on the same
field where the Pirates were soundly pummeled.
That’s pretty discouraging, especially when
you consider the mantra within the East Carolina program since its loss to
Holtz labeled the final stretch of C-USA
games as the Pirates’ Final Four C-USA Tour, a motivational tool to keep his
players firmly focused on the goals that were established before the season
began. This was ECU’s March, its chance to prove itself a champion in a true
test of survive and advance.
But it takes more than a catchy battle cry
for a team to hit its targets. It takes execution, steady improvement, focus
and a killer instinct — none of which were on display against Marshall.
Truthfully, East Carolina might never again
experience a season in which the final stretch is lined with a more direct
route to the conference championship game. After completing most of its
heavy lifting during the top half of its schedule, ECU faced a four-week
breather compared with much of September and October.
Well, ECU took a three-hour breather
against Marshall. That’s hardly a characteristic that defines a champion.
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11/11/2007 02:19:25 AM