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Game No. 1: ECU 29, App. St. 24


Game Slants
Saturday, September 5, 2009

By Denny O'Brien

Killer instinct AWOL

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

GREENVILLE — East Carolina’s victory over Appalachian State followed a fairly familiar and frustrating script.

The Pirates, winners by an uncomfortable 29-24 margin, sprinted to an early 24-0 lead and hardly broke a sweat. Riding the girth of its Goliath-sized offensive line and the legs of running backs Dominique Lindsay and Brandon Jackson, ECU seemed poised to overwhelm its smaller in-state opponent.

And perhaps it would have had the offense not shifted its foot from the accelerator to the brake. That was enough to give the Mountaineers the momentum to make this physical mismatch a game.

It was an afternoon that was eerily akin to the 2007 Hawaii Bowl when the Pirates jetted to a 38-14 lead over Boise State and hung on for dear life. There also were some similarities to games last season against N.C. State and Marshall when the Pirates had many opportunities to close out their opponent in regulation but were unable to nail the coffin shut.

The final outcome understandably brought both relief and frustration for ECU head coach Skip Holtz.

“You’ve only got 12 of these,” Holtz said. “The bottom line is you’re trying to win a football game. It’s 1-0.

“Do I wish we would have played better? Yes. Do we have a long way to go? Yes. Will my temperament in this meeting room tomorrow be positive, upbeat, and Chuckles the Clown? No. It will not be. I may kick the cat tomorrow, but tonight I’m not going to.”

Perhaps a better idea would be to use his foot to kick-start an offense that downshifted into reverse for much of the second half. After looking like it might eclipse 500 yards, much of that on the ground, App went from soft to surprisingly stingy.

Once the Mountaineers started loading the box, the Pirates soon discovered the difficulty that occurs when five are blocking eight.

“I think we came out in the first half and we got after them really good with the running game,” said Lindsay, who finished with 105 yards and a touchdown. “The running game was working really well.

“I think the second half, we came out a little complacent. I think they came out with the heart of a champion and always throwing punches. I think that’s something that we really need to work on a lot.”

Especially developing a good knockout one.

Credit ECU for landing a series of solid jabs on Appalachian early. The Pirates set the tone with a physical rushing attack and a smothering defense that led to an astounding 170 to -11 advantage in total yardage in the first quarter.

The lopsided score and statistical margin widened even more after Lindsay practically walked through a canyon and into the end zone from 21 yards. That was with 13:21 remaining before the half and it was ultimately ECU’s final offensive punch.

From that point forward the Pirates had no offensive fight.

Much of that can be attributed to the fact that the Pirates were woefully inept through the air. Aside from a drive that ended in a 27-yard scoring toss to receiver Reyn Willis, quarterback Patrick Pinkney had arguably the most unimpressive performance of his career.

Pinkney completed only 12-of-27 passes for 131 yards and was intercepted twice. He threw behind receivers, overthrew them, and never truly looked comfortable in the second half.

It’s hardly the type of performance you would expect from a three-year starter or sixth-year senior. It’s certainly not what you would envision from the guy who efficiently worked over both Virginia Tech and West Virginia last season, and who finally has a full complement of weapons around him.

If Pinkney isn’t better next week in Morgantown, or the following week in Chapel Hill, it’s hard to envision ECU returning home with anything other than a 1-2 record. The Pirates simply can’t be one-dimensional and expect to beat the better teams on their schedule.

That’s the bad news in the aftermath of this season-opening win. The good news is ECU sits undefeated, still has a relatively high ceiling, and the coaches should have the full attention of the players.

A lot of teams find themselves in much worse scenarios today. But if the Pirates don’t develop a knockout blow, it will be very difficult to reach their ambitious goals.

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09/06/2009 03:50:08 AM

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