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Game No. 4: ECU 19, UCF 14


Game Slants
Saturday, September 26, 2009

By Denny O'Brien

ECU still sputtering

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

GREENVILLE — It doesn’t feel like three weeks have passed since East Carolina roared to a commanding 24-0 advantage over Appalachian State.

Truthfully it seems like three years.

Since that early offensive explosion against the Mountaineers, the Pirates have faced the football equivalent of an embargo on the opposing end zone. At time, trips to the red zone might as well have been expeditions into the dead zone.

In their 19-14 win over Conference USA East rival Central Florida on Saturday, the Pirates again had issues dealing with that tricky barricade protecting the end zone. Despite resounding success moving the ball between the 20's, the ECU offense struggled mightily once paydirt was in close sight.

It generated a much-too-testy margin in a game that truthfully should have been decided by at least three scores.

“You get frustrated and upset because you look at what could have been,” Pirates Coach Skip Holtz said. “To (potentially) play a complete game and not turn the ball over.

“For us to be a good football team, we’re going to have to get a lot better than we are today. We’ve got guys playing hard, we’ve got some great individual efforts out there right now, but right now as far as playing together as a team and clicking on all cylinders, we’re making way too many mistakes right now.”

And too many of them are unforced.

Receiver Dwayne Harris, who scored earlier on a 25-yard scamper from the Wild Buc formation, couldn’t connect with a wide open Rob Kass from two yards out. Though Kass was the intended receiver of record, the closest person in purple was standing beneath the scoreboard.

That occurred just moments after receiver Alex Taylor dropped a perfectly thrown pass from quarterback Patrick Pinkney inside the UCF five-yard line. Instead of first and goal, the Pirates were forced to punt from the UCF 40.

Those were just a couple of the mistakes that prevented the Pirates from blowing a game open that, outside of a last gasp UCF drive, they dominated statistically. But until ECU can consistently finish drives, this will continue to be a team that must grind out low-scoring bruisefests against C-USA foes.

“It’s really close,” Kass said about the offense. “The coaches are putting us in great situations — Coach Fitch and Coach Holtz — on the offensive side of the ball.

“You know what, there were a couple of times where there were glimpses of greatness there today. It’s just a matter of all 11 guys working together and putting it together for a touchdown each and every drive.”

With the Pirates lacking a legitimate home run threat, there is an even higher premium on each player executing his assignment with flawless precision. Right now there doesn’t appear to be a gamebreaker with the speed that can overcome even the smallest mistake in the trenches or on the perimeter.

While the scoreboard makes it easy to pinpoint the flaws plaguing the offense, there should be no overlooking the fact that ECU displayed many encouraging signs. And that starts under center where Pinkney played by far his best game to date this season.

Amid media and fan criticism, Pinkney cooly completed 27 of 40 passes for 293 yards and a score. He would have easily eclipsed the 350-yard plateau were it not for a handful of drops.

Brandon Jackson also displayed that he could carry a heavy workload. He carried it 20 times against a physical front seven and demonstrated the ability to both make people miss and churn extra yardage in a crowd.

And then there is Harris, whose versatility makes him a weapon from multiple positions on the field. It’s clear that the ECU staff has wisely placed an emphasis on increasing the number of times that he touches the ball.

But there still is this business about red zone production, with which ECU has found limited success to date. Uncover a solution for that detail and this team has a chance to go pretty far.

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09/27/2009 04:54:51 AM

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