Pirates, Wildcats clash in Liberty Bowl
Published 7:27 pm Friday, January 2, 2009
By STEVE FRANKLIN, Sports Writer
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — East Carolina will shoulder the load for Conference USA this afternoon as it takes on Kentucky in the 50th AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
The Pirates (9-4) seek to become the first Conference USA team to beat an SEC squad in the Liberty Bowl when they square off with the 6-6 Wildcats in Memphis at 5 p.m.
A win would also mark the program’s first victory over an SEC team other than South Carolina in East Carolina’s 76-year history. The Pirates are 5-5 against the Gamecocks, but 0-10 against the rest of the conference.
After a dazzling defensive performance against Tulsa - which featured one of the top-ranked offenses in the nation - in the Conference USA Championship Game, East Carolina is hoping for a repeat showing against Kentucky.
The Pirates’ defense forced seven turnovers and held the Golden Hurricane below 25 points for just the second time this season as ECU won 27-24.
Kentucky coach Rich Brooks is well aware of the Pirates’ powerful defense, which has allowed just 20.8 points per game and ranks fourth in the country in interceptions (21) and takeaways (32).”
The Wildcats feature a decent defense of their own. In all six of its wins, Kentucky has held its opponent to 20 points or less, including three of them to three points or less.
To many, the fact that East Carolina even made it to the Liberty Bowl comes as a surprise. The Pirates were practically written off after losing three straight games in September and October.
“We talked about the Liberty Bowl and the road to Memphis back last January when we began our off-season workouts,” ECU coach Skip Holtz said. “So when we lost three consecutive games, every goal that we wanted to accomplish from a conference standpoint was still on the table. We refocused and here we are (with a chance to win the Liberty Bowl).”
So what’s it going to take for the Pirates to claim their ninth bowl victory?