Game No. 5: ECU 21, Marshall 17
Saturday, October 3, 2009
By Denny O'Brien
Defense rescues offense again
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HUNTINGTON, WV – At some point you have to
consider the possibility that East Carolina might be incapable of piecing
together a complete offensive game.
For five weeks running, the ECU offense has
been a little good, a little bad, and a whole lot ugly. The Pirates have
been the portrait of offensive inconsistency, a team almost as prone to
delay of game penalties as one that routinely moves the chains.
The complete game that East Carolina head
coach Skip Holtz has sought since the opener against Appalachian State
evaded him once again in the Pirates’ 21-17 victory over Marshall on
Saturday. Even after toting a 14-7 lead and a mountain of momentum into the
locker room, the Pirates opened the third quarter flat and completely out of
The only time ECU could find the end zone
after intermission was on an un-timed down to close the third quarter. And
it’s worth nothing that Patrick Pinkney’s 30-yard game-winning romp was
unscripted, the product of wise improvisation and great downfield blocking.
The final outcome left Holtz happy to leave
the Mountain State in sole possession of first place in Conference USA’s
East division, but visibly frustrated by his offense’s lack of production.
You can certainly understand. Because it seems almost a paradox that the
Pirates are mathematically in better shape through five games than they were
at the same point last year.
Especially with an offense that mustered
only 286 yards of offense Saturday.
“I think right now the Achilles’ heel of
this offensive football team is our passing game,” Holtz said. “We can’t
throw the ball on a consistent enough basis, and we’re going to have to be
content with winning low-scoring games until we can turn and find some big
plays somewhere on this offensive football team.
“I’m glad to get out of here with a win,
but I’m frustrated with where we are as an offense. I wish I could just turn
and put my finger on it. But really, when you look at what we’re doing right
now, the passing game is the weakness.”
For the first half of ECU’s critical win,
the Pirates again resembled the polished product most expected before the
season began. They were balanced, seemed largely in rhythm, and at times
extended drives without breaking too much of a sweat.
Running backs Brandon Jackson and Dominique
Lindsay took turns swallowing Marshall real estate by five and seven yard
chunks. That opened up a passing attack that was as fluid as it has been all
season, with quarterback Patrick Pinkney connecting on 10-of-15 attempts for
100 first half yards.
Then something familiar happened to the
Pirates. Halftime showed up. The weekly menace that has haunted ECU since
the season opener cast another ugly spell over the Pirates, sending them
into a second half offensive trance.
The team that executed with precision in
the first half barely managed 100 yards after intermission, with only 31 of
that coming through the air.
“First down penalties killed us,” Pinkney
said. “It’s hard to get into a rhythm like that.
“It was ugly. Our defense got us two big
interceptions and got us big stops at the end of the game. That’s what it’s
going to take win these types of games — our team staying together and
playing a 60-minute game.”
While it’s easy to get lost in the
offense’s seeming inability to produce on both sides of intermission, what
can’t be overlooked is the quick turnaround by the ECU defense. After
getting blistered by West Virginia and North Carolina in consecutive weeks,
the defense again resembles the bunch that carried the Pirates to a C-USA
title last season.
After surrendering 73 first quarter yards
to Marshall superback Darius Marshall, the ECU defense locked down and
limited him to only 63 yards the rest of the way. The Pirates proved
especially tough on first down, creating long-yardage passing situations in
which the Herd continuously struggled.
With Marshall quarterback Brian Anderson in
the pocket, the ECU defense was able to register a key sack, seven hurries,
and two deflating interceptions. By winning first down, the Pirates rendered
the Herd one-dimensional and ineffective.
Now if East Carolina could just find a
solution for first down with its offense on the field — a formula that
generates 2nd and 6 instead of 1st and 15. That sentiment is especially true
in the second half.
Last year the Pirates plodded to a C-USA
championship with a lights-out defense and an ugly duckling for an offense.
They did so out of necessity.
Through two games of the 2009 conference
slate, that appears to be the trend again.
But with a couple of prolific attacks
remaining on the schedule, the Pirates could be walking a dangerous plank if
the offense doesn’t find some consistency down the stretch. Keeping
opponents in the teens is a lot to ask of any defense in pass-happy C-USA.
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10/04/2009 02:08:08 AM