Game No. 8: ECU 38, Memphis 19
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
By Denny O'Brien
Offense ignites under pressure
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MEMPHIS — East Carolina’s midweek visit to
Conference USA East Division rival Memphis presented a simple, yet
potentially slippery scenario.
With the wounds from
a surprising loss to Southern Methodist
still visible in the
league standings, the Pirates found
themselves at the type of competitive crossroads that could significantly
adjust the ceiling on their season.
Win and ECU would retain a half-game lead
in the East and maintain command of its quest for another
league crown. Lose and there are
enough landmines remaining to place the Pirates’ postseason hopes in serious
It was as close to must-win territory as
anyone could have possibly envisioned back in August. That it occurred on
the road against a struggling opponent in the mostly vacant Liberty Bowl was
a fitting stage.
That’s because it was familiar to the ones
on which the Pirates performed during much of their 2008 run to the C-USA
the 38-19 victory over Memphis was
fairly unfamiliar given the size of the margin that separated the two.
Much of ECU’s journey last season was
defined by defensive battles in which it survived by forcing turnovers and
nailing field goals. The Pirates had few opportunities in which their backup
quarterback could close a game by running the final two series.
But ECU was able to do that while facing
little wiggle room in
the conference standings. In the end
it was arguably the most impressive road performance of the Skip Holtz era.
“A little bit in the back of your mind, you
sit there and you go, we already stubbed our toe once,” Holtz said. “You
can’t do it again and you’re playing on the road. It’s going to take a
The Pirates got their best offensive
performance of the season, compiling 497 yards, 275 of which came on the
ground. Dominique Lindsay (139 yards) and Giavanni Ruffin (87 yards) carried
much of the load, providing ECU with a punishing duo between the tackles.
About the only things that stopped Lindsay
and Ruffin were halftime and the final horn.
“I think the offense is starting to come
into its own a little bit,” Holtz said. “I think obviously Giavanni Ruffin
keeps getting better. Dominique Lindsay keeps getting better. Darryl Freeney
stepping up the way he did gives us another option and another weapon.
“Right now, you’re hopeful. We’re going to
have a really tough (offensive) challenge against Virginia Tech. Then we’ll
sit down and look at the final three conference games and kind of where we
are and what we have to do at that point.”
Where East Carolina currently resides is in
as good a position at this stage of the season as at any point over the past
five seasons. Maybe even better. At 4-1 in C-USA, the Pirates don’t need
help from anyone else to navigate to the league title game.
ECU also is relatively healthy and
beginning to find a rhythm on offense. Though the Pirates didn’t faced the
nation’s stingiest defenses
in Rice and Memphis, their execution
and confidence are encouraging signs for the challenging road ahead.
But there still are areas of concern.
To say that the Pirates are still
vulnerable on the back end of their defense is stating things kindly. Will
Hudgens, a below average quarterback by C-USA standards, at times performed
as if he belonged in the same class as Houston’s Case Keenum.
An elite corps of receivers and little
pressure in the pocket certainly didn’t hurt.
Special teams, specifically the return
coverage, are a previous concern that again emerged against Memphis. So are
the nine penalties ECU committed for 89 yards, a couple of which put the
offense several yards behind the chains.
But neither that nor the Memphis mist could
haunt the Pirates Tuesday night. Lindsay, Ruffin, and a dominating
performance by the offensive line made sure that it wouldn’t.
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10/28/2009 02:13:42 AM