Pirates to host UCF in Conference USA play

Published 4:13 am Tuesday, October 2, 2007

By By PETER WILLIAMS, Staff Writer
Skip Holtz hopes that the playing time some ECU reserves got early this season will start to pay big dividends as the battered and bruised Pirates take on the University of Central Florida in Greenville Saturday.
From the first game of the year, Holtz has tried to shuffle players onto the field to give them some experience, even against nationally ranked opponents. Against Virginia Tech, he played 10 defensive linemen, all nine linebackers that made the trip and three quarterbacks. In five games, 40 Pirates have seen action on defense, and 39 of them in two games or more.
“Some guys have had the opportunity to step up there because of injuries,” Holtz said at a press conference Monday. “We come out of the Houston game with some knicks and knacks and that’s why we’ve talked so much about creating depth on this football team.
“Nobody is going to stay healthy the entire season. Injuries are part of this game (and) you’ve got to play through that. Players need to look at this as an opportunity to step up and get their day in the sun, so to speak.”
One of those who took advantage of that sun on Saturday was former Northside High School standout C.J. Wilson. Wilson made his first start of the season and had a career-high nine tackles against Houston. He was credited with two and a half sacks and blocked a T.J. Lawrence field goal attempt that set up ECU’s third score.
“C.J. Wilson was the beneficiary of Marcus Hands being out and ended up going from about 15 plays (a game) to playing almost 70,” Holtz said. “He did a great job, had a couple of sacks and pressured the quarterback.”
Hands had the starting job the first four games of the year, but is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game because of a shoulder injury. Wilson is first on the depth chart, which is a good sign that he will start again, said Tom McClellan, the media director for the Pirates.
Hands isn’t the only injured ECU player. Six Pirates are shown as questionable in the injury report, and five are listed as probable. One of those is Quentin Cotton, who has been named to the Butkus Award watch list and leads the Pirates with 44 total tackles, including 14 in the 37-35 win over Houston.
The University of Central Florida will be no less of a challenge. The Knights come into the game with a 3-1 record and the top scoring offense in Conference USA. UCF lost a 35-32 decision against now 19th-ranked Texas but beat N.C. State 25-23, Memphis 56-20 and Louisiana-Lafayette 37-19. Leading that rushing game is Kevin Smith, a junior who has racked up an average of 178 yards a game. ECU as a team has only 116 yards a game, but is showing signs of improvement on the ground.
Holtz said he will continue to use both quarterbacks Patrick Pinkney and Rob Kass. Pinkney started the Houston game, but Kass played the second half and passed for 110 yards and a touchdown.
What impressed Holtz even more was that ECU was able to mount the strongest rushing attack of the season. The Pirates picked up 173 yards, 147 of them off Chris Johnson.
Both Kass and Pinkney are pretty inexperienced, Holtz said, but both have a role in the ECU offense.