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Pirate Notebook No. 405
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Denny O'Brien

Plenty to ponder after test in Tulsa

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

As big as East Carolina’s game with Tulsa seemed, it’s nowhere near as important as the Pirates’ showdown with UAB this Saturday.

Like the Pirates, the Blazers control their own destiny in the Conference USA East Division race, and ECU can’t get caught up in the logo on the helmet. The UAB lettering and dragon don’t exactly convey fear, but with quarterback Joe Webb the Blazers are very capable of winning if the Pirates don’t bring their A-game Saturday.

Webb is a better runner than Tulsa QB G.J. Kinney and has evolved into a dangerous passer. The Pirates will have to match their defensive effort from Sunday, if not improve on it.

Here are some additional observations from ECU’s 44-17 victory over Tulsa Sunday:

— Want to know the most encouraging sign about the East Carolina program following the Pirates’ victory over Tulsa? Though the win made ECU bowl eligible, it received very little lip service from Pirates Coach Skip Holtz following the game, if any at all.

In each of the past couple of seasons, the six-win mark has been a semi-celebratory event. But on a night during which the Pirates reached the milestone it wasn’t even a topic of discussion. It’s clear this program has elevated itself to a point where it aspires for more than just a trip to the postseason.

— If the offense appeared to downshift in the second half, that was partly by design. With a 20-7 lead and a defense that was playing lights out, Holtz said he purposely took the air out of the ball after intermission despite the fact that Patrick Pinkney was dialed in during the first half.

“Now in the second half, we probably took a lot off of him and went back to running the ball,” Holtz said. “They loaded the box, and put an extra hat in there and did some of those things. I just didn’t want to get into a passing game with them.”

Whether or not you agree with this philosophy, it is important to note that it is the same one that produced a C-USA title last year. And it seems like a sound approach when facing a desperate opponent on the road.

— Darryl Freeney might be the best wide receiver during the Holtz era, Aundrae Allison included. Freeney has explosive speed, is not afraid to make catches in traffic, and has a sticky pair of mitts.

And unlike Allison, Freeney doesn’t seem to take the occasional play off. Put today’s version of Freeney in Allison’s position in the 2006 Bowl, and the outcome would look slightly different.

— The most glaring weakness against Tulsa was the Pirates’ recurring struggles with their kick coverage unit. Damaris Johnson’s returns single-handedly kept TU within striking distance until the Pirates were able to ice the game with three defensive scores in the fourth quarter.

ECU tried different kickers, pooches and squibs, and even attempted to kick away from Johnson. Credit Tulsa for countering with a last-minute alignment switch that led to a 57-yard return to set up its final score.

— Many who watched the Pirates and Golden Hurricane Sunday likely came away with the impression that Tulsa’s Johnson was the best player on the field. Anyone who did likely didn’t pay too much attention to C.J. Wilson. But how could they not have?

Wilson registered three sacks, five tackles, and was virtually unblockable. Tulsa had no answer for the preseason C-USA Defensive Player of the Year.

— ESPN might want to rethink this whole Sunday night college football idea. No disrespect to either ECU or TU, but there is simply no way this produced a respectable rating. Almost anyone outside of a Florida-Alabama match-up would have struggled on a night that featured a premier NFL showdown between New England and Indianapolis.

— Road trips for C-USA media members can be lonely affairs. Save for games in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, there is no such thing as a sellout in C-USA. The generously announced crowd of 17-plus thousand Sunday seemed a lot more like 5K, but at least it didn’t look quite as bad in Tulsa’s miniature stadium. Keep up the good work C-USA fans.

— So far it seems like muscle trumps finesse in C-USA. By and large, the East Division has had the upper hand over the West, with this weekend supporting that notion.

While ECU was derailing Tulsa’s bowl hopes, Central Florida perhaps put Houston’s conference championship bid on the skids. The blueprint for both the Pirates and Knights was a strong running game, efficient passing, and physical defense.

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11/18/2009 04:59 AM

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