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Pirate Notebook No. 362
Monday, November 10, 2008

Denny O'Brien

Reality dictates deliberate approach

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Harris BCS Poll

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.

A senior columnist for Bonesville and The Pirates' Chest Magazine, 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.

Denny O'Brien's Harris Poll Ballot

(Ballot cast 11.09.08)

  1. Texas Tech
  2. Alabama
  3. Texas
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Florida
  6. Southern Cal
  7. Penn State
  8. Utah
  9. Boise State
10. Ohio State
11. Georgia
12. Oklahoma State
13. Missouri
14. Texas Christian
15. Ball State
16. Michigan State
17. Brigham Young
18. North Carolina
19. Florida State
20. LSU
21. Oregon
22. Tulsa
23. Oregon State
24. South Carolina
25. Pittsburgh

This Week's Harris, AP and USA Today Polls

This Week's Composite BCS Standings

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O'Brien: Reality dictates deliberate approach
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BCS Standings
Harris/AP/Coaches Polls
O'Brien: Harris Poll ballot
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Box Score / Statistics
BVL Audio Replay: Skip Holtz post-game
Talk FM Audio Replay: Post-game Call-in Show
O'Brien: Rivalry moves up a notch
Myatt: Hartman, Pirates getting their kicks
Monroe: Kevin's Keys to the Game
C-USA Standings, Scores, Schedule
ECU Schedule, Scores, Attendance
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Skip Holtz Game Week No. 9 Press Conference
Bradsher: Lady Pirates find treasure in Texas
Bailey: Little rest after season-saving win

You got the impression early during East Carolina’s 19-16 victory over Marshall that the Homecoming crowd was growing impatient with the Pirate offense.

It’s a good thing head coach Skip Holtz and offensive coordinator Todd Fitch weren’t.

Though you can’t characterize ECU’s offensive output Saturday as prolific, it at least was sufficient enough to claim control of the Conference USA East race.

And while the offense spent most of the day lumbering methodically between the 20's, the final output of 387 yards — 287 through the air — was a significant improvement over last weekend against Central Florida.

The next task for the offense is to find the end zone with more regularity.

“It’s certainly not that we’re trying to only score 19 points,” Holtz said. “We didn’t say, ‘Hey, let’s score ten and see if we can win and really challenge our defense.

“We’re trying to score points. It’s certainly not that we’re not trying to. But, the offense has to fit the defense. If you’re going to be a little bit of a bend but don’t break defense, then you’ve got to be a little bit of that on offense.”

Especially when you lack the big-play firepower the Pirates have enjoyed in the past.

Many squawked at the possibility that ECU’s offense wouldn’t suffer dramatically from the loss of MVP running back Chris Johnson. His home run ability, some believed, would be replaced by the plethora of playmakers Holtz has been able to stockpile along the recruiting trail.

That hasn’t been the case as Johnson’s departure was the equivalent of losing three playmakers, not one. So far no one has proven his equivalent as a running back, deep-threat receiver, or return specialist, and the best chance ECU has at filling those voids will come during Spring Practice.

The fact that ECU’s starting running back, Norman Whitley, entered fall camp fourth on the depth chart is a testament to the level of attrition with which the offensive staff has had to deal this year. So are the in-season losses of Stanley Bryant, Jamar Bryant, and Jonathan Williams.

It’s forced a tight end to emerge as one of the go-to playmakers.

“Davon (Drew) has played more and more of a role because of the situation that we’ve been put in with some of the suspensions and injuries that we’ve had,” Holtz said. “We’ve got to get our best players on the field.

“Davon ran a great route right before the halftime for the touchdown. He’s just progressing more and more as a football player. Right now, Dwayne Harris and Davon Drew are the two guys who are really making some things happen out there for us in the passing game.”

If you are wondering why the ECU offense is a methodical exhibition of plodding down the field, it’s a philosophy born mostly out of necessity, not principle. Rest assured Holtz would give Fitch free reign to dial long distance more often if the personnel existed to execute it successfully.

The good news is the Pirates successfully landed a couple of deep punches on Marshall Saturday and missed an opportunity for another. Receiver Dwayne Harris ran freely behind the secondary early in the second quarter, but quarterback Patrick Pinkney saw an open running lane before noticing his open receiver.

The last time East Carolina opened 6-3, David Garrard took the snaps, often handing to running back Leonard Henry and tossing to Richard Alston. It was an offense with the ability to strike quick and often, but on too many occasions not enough to account for a very bad defense.

That formula couldn’t deliver a conference championship.

This year the offense doesn’t have quick-strike capability, or the ingredients to be a dynamic scoring machine. But ECU does possess a defense capable of stuffing opponents while the offense searches for its rhythm.

That recipe has led the Pirates to three consecutive wins. There is no evidence to suggest that it can’t lead to three more.

Defensive surge

Somewhat lost in the offensive fuss has been the defensive mastery ECU has enjoyed over its opponents. Dating back to the second half of their loss at Virginia, the Pirates have surrendered a grand total of 43 points.

That’s solid work over 14 quarters and two overtimes. It might even be the best stretch of defense ever witnessed at East Carolina.

East Carolina ranks first in several key defensive categories in C-USA, including scoring defense (21.2 ppg), pass defense (188.2 ypg), and total defense (326.8). The Pirates also rank third in rush defense (138.6 ypg) and turnovers forced (20).

Those are amazing statistics when you consider the personnel losses throughout the season. Quentin Cotton, Khalif Mitchell, Marcus Hands, Jerek Hewitt, Scottie Robinson and Melvin Patterson are just a few who have missed significant time, forcing many of the baby Pirates to hit the field ahead of schedule.

Penalty parade

East Carolina rushed for 100 yards against Marshall. The Pirates nearly matched that total in penalties.

ECU was flagged seven times for 94 yards, a number that understandably left Holtz uneasy. Specifically it is the big-yardage penalties, like Dekota Marshall’s late hit out of bounds that have him concerned.

“The personal foul out of bounds was just foolish,” Holtz said. “It kept a drive alive.”

“The quarterback was running out of bounds and we went up and took a shot on him. He was trying to exit the field. We’ve just got to be smarter. We’ve got too many foolish penalties. You’re going to have some, but you don’t want them. We’ve got to eliminate that 15-yard garden variety. Those are starting to kill us.”

Perhaps more critical are the offensive penalties that derail scoring drives. Right now the ECU offense can’t afford to shoot itself in the foot.

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11/10/2008 03:31:31 AM

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