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Keys to the Game
Saturday, October 20, 2007

By Kevin Monroe

Game 8: NCSU at ECU

Each week, Kevin Monroe, color analyst for the Pirate ISP Sports Radio Network, provides “Kevin’s Keys to The Game,” outlining what East Carolina must do to beat its opponent. Monroe brings a unique perspective to the task, not only as a member of the broadcast team, but also as a former defensive back for the Pirates (1995-99).

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East Carolina can defeat North Carolina State if it accomplishes these key objectives:

  1. Get out fast: The Wolfpack has played probably the toughest schedule of any of East Carolina's opponents. The Pack's losses came to Central Florida, Boston College, Louisville, Clemson and Florida State, all of which are quality programs with abundant talent. N.C. State has plenty of talent, too, but has found a way to lose these games instead of finding a way to win them. Winning football games is hard work. Losing them is easy — and contagious. If the Pirates can start fast, the 'Here we go again' mindset will begin to affect the Pack. Coming off of a bye week, State is rejuvenated and telling itself that the second half of the season will be different. If the Pirates start slowly and don't establish some swagger, the Wolfpack's confidence will swell. If ECU comes out firing on all cylinders and establishes a sense of control early, the players in red and white will start to wonder if defeat is once again inevitable.

  2. Turnovers: East Carolina has only lost one fumble this season, which ranks first in the country, and has thrown eight interceptions. N.C. State has fumbled seven times and been intercepted 15 times, including five picks versus Boston College. In an in-state rivalry game like this, turnovers mean everything. The team that turns the ball over the least will have the best chance to win. Freshman running back Jamelle Eugene had significant fumble problems in the preseason but took good care of the football in the Wolfpack's last game versus Florida State. Eugene had 14 carries for 101 yards against the Seminoles.  Quarterback Daniel Evans has been known to make questionable decisions with the football. If Backup QB Harrison Beck isn’t healthy, the Pirates should have the opportunity make some plays in the secondary.

  3. Run the football: The Pirates have escalated their running game in recent weeks, gaining at least 160 yards rushing in each of the last three games. Running back Chris Johnson has been the catalyst for this much improved ground attack, averaging over 120 yards over the last three games. State is giving up 226 rushing yards per game and has been decimated by injuries on defense. The combination of the those converging circumstances sets up the opportunity for East Carolina to have another good day on the ground.

  4. Play for the future: This game will be played in front of a number of North Carolina high school football recruits. The school that wins this game immediately gets the upper hand in key recruiting battles. Prep stars want to win football games when they get to the next level and are influenced by what they see on the field when two schools that are courting them go head to head. For that reason, it is very important for the Pirates to play well against all in-state rivals.

The bottom line: In the master scheme of things, this game is not as important as the Conference USA games ECU has played and will play. Instead, the magnitude of this game is associated with bragging rights, respect and recruiting. Winning is a must for the Pirates, because they are favored against a 1-5 team. N.C. State will say that it is rebuilding if it loses, while a Pirate loss will imply that a "rebuilding" N.C. State team is better than ECU. That is the burden East Carolina carries after a long history of being considered an underdog to the Wolfpack in most seasons. The only way to get out of the shadow of in-state schools is to beat them.

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10/20/2007 03:29:58 AM


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