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Game No. 7: ECU 49, Rice 13


Game Slants
Saturday, October 17, 2009

By Denny O'Brien

Offense gets a boost

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

GREENVILLE — Skip Holtz couldn’t have picked a better opponent to help ignite his sputtering offense.

Even if the fifth-year East Carolina coach searched the lower levels of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, he would have been hard-pressed to find a better remedy for what the Pirates desperately needed.

For an ECU offense that has struggled mightily since the second half of its season opening win over Appalachian State, a date with Rice seemed the perfect remedy. It was an obvious opportunity for the Pirates to register significant yardage in the box score and exceed the 30s on the scoreboard.

The winless and seemingly hopeless Owls entered the contest ranked among the worst nationally in every major statistical category on defense. In pads and jerseys, Rice looked every bit as deficient on defense as the numbers suggest.

And while it’s tempting to dismiss the Pirates’ 49-point, 459-yard eruption as an indictment on the Rice defense, ECU should be credited for its execution amid significant pressure. After averaging only 21 points through six games, you had the sense that many of the 43,023 paying customers would get restless with a routine showing on the scoreboard.

Those who remained the entire four quarters were treated to easily the most complete showing from ECU this season. Outside of a brief offensive lull in the third quarter, the Pirates demonstrated that they could be 60-minute men.

“We finally finished a football game, which is something that we’ve been waiting for all season” Holtz said following the Pirates’ 49-13 win. “We’ve had a couple of opportunities, but I was really proud of the way that they hung in there and competed today.

“It was a game that we needed. It was a game where we not only played well, but we were able to finish the game. It was just a great morale booster for this team right now.”

Much of that boost came early and in eight and ten-yard chunks from senior running back Dominique Lindsay. He trampled over the Rice defense for 78 yards on 12 carries before an ankle injury sidelined him in the opening minutes of the second quarter.

It supported the theory that the only team to contain Lindsay this season has been the ECU medical staff.

But the Rice defense was given no reprieve with Lindsay on the sideline. It just increased the dose of Dwayne Harris that was administered on the Owls’ outmanned defense.

“We talked about having to get the ball to Dwayne because he is a special player,” Holtz said. “We are finding more ways to get the ball to him. He is a great young man and I am really happy with how he has competed as of late.

“He’s always had that big play ability, but Dwayne has never been able to play as many plays as he is right now. Dwayne was a high school quarterback and had never played receiver before. He had never run routes. He had never read coverages. … Every year he has gotten better and better.”

Saturday Harris was at his best.

He dissected the Owls for 264 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, giving the junior ECU receiver seven touchdowns over the last four games. He struck on a 92-yard kickoff return — his second return touchdown in as many weeks — and a pair of short passes in which his feet did much of the work.

To understate it, Harris was operating on a completely different gear than anyone else on Bagwell Field. His speed and shiftiness in the open field provided the Pirates with the big-play ability they’ve sorely missed for much of the season, and they’ll need a lot more of it to successfully defend their Conference USA title.

Just like they’ll need a healthy Lindsay to provide them with some punch between the tackles. He is vital to ECU’s ability to control tempo and the clock, both keys to the Pirates’ offensive success.

Success on the scoreboard Saturday should provide the Pirates with extra confidence during their ten-day break. After struggling during the first half of the season, it should come in handy down the stretch.

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10/18/2009 04:15:13 AM

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