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Pirate Notebook No. 358
Monday, September 22, 2008

By Denny O'Brien

Holtz made the right call

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

O'Brien on Harris Poll voting panel

For the third 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. As a service to readers of this site, O'Brien's ballot will be published in this space each Monday throughout the season.

The Harris Poll is a component of the BCS Standings. This season's first Harris poll will be released on Sept. 28. The first 2008 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. 19.

A senior columnist for, Bonesville Magazine and The Pirates' Chest, O'Brien was nominated to the Harris Poll panel by Conference USA. View a list of the Harris Poll panel members on this week's national polls page.




Other Recent Items

BVL: AP & Coaches Polls
O'Brien: Holtz made the right call
Game Center: ECU vs. N.C. State
BVL: C-USA Standings, Scores, Schedule
Myatt: Pirates miss chances in red zone
O'Brien: Finish adds to rivalry
BVL: ECU-N.C. State Box Score / Statistics

Skip Holtz: Post-game Press Conference

Monroe: Kevin's Keys to the N.C. State Game
Batten: First instinct held true for N.J prep star
Myatt: Wallace looks for repeat of history
Bradsher: Wading through the media fog
Bailey: Wounded Pirates forced to adjust

There are many reasons for East Carolina’s rapid ascension into the national polls this season.

The defense, for starters, has improved to the point where it no longer is the program punch line. The worst outing to date — the 384 yards the Pirates surrendered to N.C. State Saturday — would be considered a good day over most of the past two decades.

In the process, the offense has hardly slipped, if not improved. The Pirates are probably even more diverse with their effective mix of the spread and old-fashioned power football.

But if you want to identify one reason for the Pirates’ rise from obscurity to national relevance, it would have to be the top man under the headset. Head coach Skip Holtz has changed the culture at East Carolina, restoring the pride of the school’s glory days and raising the ceiling to heights that many believed was beyond the Pirates’ reach.

However, that hasn’t placed a shield of critical immunity around the Pirates’ fourth-year coach. In the wake of No. 23 ECU’s painful loss to rival N.C. State, most of the second-guessing from Saturday centers on his decision to go for the TD on fourth down from the one yard line.

Had the Pirates kicked the field goal then, some rationalize that it, along with the field goal Ben Hartman nailed later, would have given them a ten-point cushion. But there is absolutely no guarantee that ECU would have driven the ball deep enough into field goal range a second time.

Consider this: The reason East Carolina drove into scoring range the second time was because of the field position advantage it gained from not converting deep in Wolfpack territory.

ECU’s inability to kick it deep — and its shortcomings in kick coverage — were just a couple of factors that went into Holtz’s thinking.

“If you watched our kickoff team, (State) would have started off much better than that,” Holtz said. “I don’t regret it.

“I turned to Greg Hudson and I said, ‘What do you think?’ He said, ‘Go ahead, let’s get up two scores now.’ So we turned and we went after it. We played this game to win. I didn’t play it conservative or close to the vest, and I wouldn’t change anything that I did. I might change a couple of play calls since they didn’t work, but I would go for it again.”

And it would be the right call, again.

If anything is to be criticized about that play, it is its execution. Had the fullback executed his block on J.C. Neal, the Pirates are probably sitting a perfect 4-0.

“It was a base play,” Holtz said. “It was a play that we run out of our goal line package quite a bit.

“I know that the offensive coaches were talking to those guys to find out what happened. I don’t know. The guy who never turned around and asked the quarterback, was the guy who missed the block.”

Holtz deserves credit for positioning East Carolina to nail the door shut early in the fourth quarter. He shouldn’t be criticized for his team’s inability to do so.

Missing Cotton, Bryant

Much attention has been given to State’s injury list, which is long enough to keep the team doctors busy until Christmas.

But of all the players missing in action Saturday, there were few more significant than Quentin Cotton and Stanley Bryant.

“Quentin Cotton is a very talented player,” Holtz said. “And I’m not going to say that we’re a better defense without him. We’re a much better defense with him.

“I thought that Nick Johnson went in there and did some good things. Melvin Patterson got a chance to play a little bit at linebacker as well. But we are not as good without Quentin. No. But that didn’t lose it for us. I’m certainly not going to lean on that, because I know that N.C. State has had some injuries as well.”

Holtz is right in not pinning ECU’s loss on the absence of Cotton. The Pirates had several chances to close the door on the Wolfpack in the fourth quarter.

Even so, Cotton is the heartbeat of the ECU defense and its emotional leader. His presence in the huddle during the Wolfpack’s final drives in regulation and overtime might have provided a needed lift.

Ditto for Stanley Bryant. His absence was felt during the Pirates’ overtime possession when quarterback Patrick Pinkney was sacked and fumbled.

Perhaps Bryant’s quickness at left tackle could have prevented Shea McKeen from blind-siding Pinkney.

Unsportsmanlike conduct

Some questioned AD Terry Holland for the measures he suggested regarding fan sportsmanship at ECU athletics events. Specifically, he requested that ECU’s fans welcome — not boo — opponents as they enter and exit the field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Anyone standing in the tunnel as the Pirates exited Carter-Finley Stadium should understand why.

The verbal berating ECU’s players took from the State student section was one that would do West Virginia fans proud. A downpour of expletives and back alley invitations showered the humbled Pirates all the way to the locker room.

You really have to question why some fans reduce themselves to low-class heckling in lieu of celebrating the valiant effort of their underdog team. It shows poor taste and a lack of appreciation of a game that was well-fought and will be remembered as one of the best in the series history.

To be fair, the Pirates weren’t exactly the model of sportsmanship when they took the field. Several entertained themselves by taunting fans in the opposite end zone with the Wolfpack hand signal.

That definitely should be addressed. But so should the behavior of the students who crudely attacked the Pirates with their coarse verbal barrage.

Surely, this is not a complete reflection of the Wolfpack Nation. Every school has fans that are the exception to a first-class operation, and ECU certainly is not immune.

At the same time, you have to admire the steps Holland has taken to improve the relations between ECU’s fans and its opponents. It’s another example of why Holland is one of the most respected leaders in college athletics.

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09/22/2008 04:06:28 AM

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