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Game 7: East Carolina 30, Memphis 10


Game Slants
Sunday, October 19, 2008

By Denny O'Brien

Kass adds life to offense

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

GREENVILLE — You can hardly accuse Rob Kass of impatience. If there is one quality that runs persistently throughout his 250-pound frame, it is his resolve to put the team ahead of his own competitive desires.

Saturday against Memphis, that perseverance paid off. The understudy for nearly all of the 2008 season, Kass finally got his opportunity to take the lead role in an East Carolina offense so stagnant that first downs have been the cause for celebration.

While it won’t go down as one of the most memorable efforts by an East Carolina quarterback – Kass passed for 167 yards on nine of 17 passes and two touchdowns – it was enough to jumpstart an offense that for weeks has been stuck in neutral.

“It’s been difficult,” Kass said about his time on the sidelines. “Being a competitive person, I wan to be the guy out there always.

“When it comes down to it, I want to be out on the field with those ten other guys. But you know, good things come to those who wait. I went out there and just tried to play as best as I could within the offense.

"It’s easy when you’ve got guys who are that big and that strong and working that hard in front of you.”

Guys like Stanley Bryant.

The return of ECU’s left tackle kept Kass upright for most of the game and provided the needed time for him to run through his passing progressions. That was evident on his 28-yard scoring toss to Dwayne Harris on third and 19, and one possession later when he hit tight end Davon Drew for 28 more.

Kass also was aided by the strongest effort to date from ECU’s tailbacks. Jonathan Williams (108 yards, TD) and Norman Whitley (60 yards, TD) provided plenty of help on the ground, while Brandon Simmons hauled in perfectly executed 42-yard scoring toss.

“I thought Rob did a nice job of managing the game,” Pirates coach Skip Holtz said. “He threw some really pretty balls out there, too, like the deep ball he threw down there on the sideline to Drew.

“We came in here and we said Patrick (Pinkney) has been the starting quarterback and we’re going to play Patrick. That’s how we came in here. We made the agreement that the third series that Rob would come in there and we’d make a decision from there.”

The decision to stay with Kass was a wise one. With the East Carolina offense – and perhaps its season – backed squarely into the corner, Holtz needed a strong-armed reliever to loosen the defense and stretch the field.

Kass' presence alone forced the Tigers into a more honest defensive approach, keeping them from packing eight within spitting distance of the line of scrimmage. His rifle right arm is a dangerous weapon that can strike deep on any given play, and that opens additional elements to the offense.

Against Memphis it allowed the coaching staff to keep Kass under center, handing it to his running backs and throwing off play-action. And had the slippery weather been more forgiving, you have to believe the overall execution would have been better.

That should come with more repetitions as Kass knocks off the rust he collected from the sidelines. His play was good enough that he has earned himself a major role in the offense, be it as the starter or Pinkney’s reliever.

That much will be revealed over time, perhaps two weeks from now in Orlando. Until then, expect the media and fan debate over the quarterback situation to persist.

While it is entirely possible that Holtz might ultimately decide on one, history suggests that East Carolina will need both. And given the sense of urgency the season’s tone has now taken, Holtz says he will go with the guy who has the hot hand.

The immediate reaction by many following ECU’s 30-10 win was that the Pirates had themselves a serious quarterback controversy. Two quarterbacks, both of whom have been the catalyst behind important wins, and only one ball to share between them.

Ask Memphis coach Tommy West and he’d call it a luxury. He lost his starter and backup to injuries before turning to a walk-on and eventually stripping away a redshirt.

Now that is the textbook definition of a quarterback problem.

In many ways East Carolina is right back where it was last year with rotating quarterbacks and a little mystery surrounding how the staff will manage its personnel. While maybe less than ideal, it’s the scenario that gives the Pirates their best chance at winning Conference USA.

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10/19/2008 03:10:40 AM

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