Has ECU figured out how to slow West Virginia’s run game?

Published 1:49 am Thursday, September 20, 2007

By By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — Maybe Skip Holtz has figured out something the rest of the college football world hasn’t: How to slow West Virginia’s potent rushing offense.
Ever since Steve Slaton and Patrick White emerged in 2005, the fifth-ranked Mountaineers have rolled up big points and even bigger stats against virtually everyone they’ve played — except East Carolina.
Now the coach of the only team to hold West Virginia to fewer than 200 yards rushing in each of the last two seasons is letting people in on his secret: Scrap the gimmick defenses, and keep things simple.
It worked — at least, according to the stat sheets.
In 2005, when White was a change-of-pace backup quarterback and Slaton was a fourth-string tailback, Holtz’s first Pirates team held the Mountaineers to a season-worst 127 yards rushing and hung close in a 20-15 loss.
A year later, the Pirates held Slaton to just 80 yards — one of only three sub-100-yard games for him last season. They prevented White from running wild, limited West Virginia to its second-worst output of the year (153 yards rushing) and kept things tight for longer than expected before fading in a 27-10 defeat.
Now, West Virginia (3-0) has another big-play threat in freshman Noel Devine. Slaton’s backup averages 15 yards per attempt and needed just two carries to reach 100 yards last week at Maryland, prompting Holtz to say he ‘‘may be better than Slaton.’’
He helped the Mountaineers take their annual place among the nation’s best rushing offenses, ranking second to Navy with an average of nearly 344 yards and moving into position for a fourth straight Top 10 finish in that stat category.
Meanwhile, East Carolina (1-2) has Conference USA’s best defense against the run, allowing an average of 86 yards, and in three games has allowed just one 100-yard rusher. But three first-year starters in the secondary have Holtz concerned after veterans in previous years were able to keep West Virginia from breaking off long gains.
Besides, the Pirates have plenty of other internal concerns — most notably, preparing for their fourth consecutive high-emotion game.
This one follows a distraction-filled opener at Virginia Tech, an in-state rivalry against North Carolina and a loss to C-USA rival Southern Mississippi that East Carolina almost never beats on its own home field.