Game No. 10: ECU 44, Tulsa 17
Sunday, November 15, 2009
By Denny O'Brien
Pirates master rocky seas
All Rights Reserved.
TULSA — Maybe it isn’t the situation you
envisioned for East Carolina before the season began.
Even in your wildest worst case scenario,
your purple-shaded optimism just wouldn’t include a storyline that could
potentially end without a victory against a BCS automatic qualifier
conference, no league title, or an overall record that flirted with .500.
Truthfully Skip Holtz’s periscope probably
didn’t include it, either. Ditto for the players who suited up for the
Pirates in their
thorough 44-17 victory over Tulsa,
each of whom no doubt entered the season believing they would take another
step forward and improve on the nine wins and Conference USA championship
After a critical conference road victory
against a team that took Boise State and Houston to the wire, the Pirates
took an obvious step towards reaching their big picture goals. Drawing any
other conclusion would seem unfair given what this team can still
“This is a great win,” Pirates Coach Skip
Holtz said. “To do it with some pressure on you, I’m really proud of the
“I think it’s a big step. There is still a
lot of football left to play and a lot of things can happen, but I think it
speaks volumes for these guys. There were a lot of opportunities to turn and
panic in this game.”
Some of those opportunities occurred early
and featured some of the recurring problems that plagued the Pirates through
much of the season. The most crippling had been their inability to finish
drives, which appeared early when ECU took the opening drive and marched 63
yards in ten plays but was forced to settle for a field goal.
It did again when momentum-shifting
mistakes derailed the Pirates’ quest to extend their lead early in the game.
Failed third down conversions, a missed field goal, and a fumble by Dwayne
Harris on an errant pitch out of the Wildcat formation thwarted drives that
appeared to have the end zone listed as the final destination.
It was a familiar portrait of a team that
consistently unloaded rounds of ammunition through its Nike cleats.
But almost simultaneous with the thickening
mist over a mostly vacant Chapman Stadium, the normally plodding East
Carolina offense discovered a remedy for its toe-stubbing woes. The Pirates
transformed into the type of big-play bunch that was characteristic of the
days when Chris Johnson occupied the backfield.
Only this time it was Dominique Lindsay
busting through the Tulsa secondary and hauling Golden Hurricane defenders
with him. He was complemented by the emerging battery of Patrick Pinkney and
Darryl Freeney, who connected seven times for 146 yards and a score.
“He threw the deep ball, especially in the
first half, probably as well as he’s thrown it, not only this year, but
since he’s been here,” Holtz said of Pinkney. “Now in the second half, we
probably took a lot off of him and went back to running the ball.
“They had a good defensive game plan in the
second half, but I thought Patrick really did a great job of managing the
game, milking the clock here at the end. I thought he did an awful lot of
good things. I’m really proud of the way he played. He was really dialed in,
especially after last week’s performance and the frustration in the passing
game. To see him come in and do some of the things he did was really
Pinkney was so impressive in slicing
through the Golden Hurricane defense in the first half that the Pirates
reached the locker room with a 20-7 lead and an even more commanding 401-122
advantage in yardage. To put it in proper perspective, the half day of work
was better than most full days that ECU had registered offensively this
It was a redeeming performance for a
quarterback who has been the target of much criticism since the season
opening snap. And it occurred against a defense that likes to blitz and
pressure from almost every angle on the field.
Just like ECU at times can manufacture a
little unnecessary pressure on itself.
After the Pirates surrendered a touchdown
before intermission, you sensed they had reached a crossroads in both this
game and their season. Would they be able to close out a desperate Tulsa
crowd, or play tentative and watch a commanding lead evaporate?
When the offense shifted back to a
conservative gear, the latter was very much in play. But a devastating pass
rush fueled by C.J. Wilson (three sacks) generated three turnovers that
Now with two games remaining the Pirates
boast a 5-1 C-USA record and firmly control their own destiny in the East
Division. It might not be the BCS grandeur that some believed a possibility
in August, but it’s a pretty darn good place to be.
ECU made it pretty clear Sunday night that
its glass is more than half full.
a message to Denny O'Brien.
Dig into Denny
O'Brien's Bonesville archives.
11/16/2009 03:41:59 AM