Pirates gear up for statement game with Mountaineers|ECU looking for first ever win in Morgantown

Published 5:24 pm Saturday, September 12, 2009

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — Both East Carolina and West Virginia are looking to make a statement today when they hit the turf at Mountaineer Field. Both teams battled FCS squads in their season opener’s, and both teams won in less than convincing fashion.
The Pirates held on for dear life as Appalachian State’s fourth-quarter rally fell short in the team’s 29-24 win, while West Virginia didn’t push Liberty out of reach until a late TD made it 33-20.
If East Carolina wants to walk away from with its first ever win in Morgantown (0-12) then it must establish the run early and often. Led by Brandon Jackson and Dominique Lindsay, the Pirates have a solid core of rushers, who with the help of a solid offensive line, should give WVU’s 3-5-3 defense a lot of trouble. Though ECU is mostly a shotgun team, if this game turns into a grind-it-out slugfest, ECU might run some I formation plays to try and exploit the Mountaineers’ three down linemen. Also look for ECU wideout Dwayne Harris to get a few snaps in the wildcat formation, and possibly throw a pass.
Last week App State stuffed eight in the box and loaded up on the line of scrimmage to stop the Pirates’ run game. Expect WVU to do the same if ECU begins to gash its defense, and if it does, the Pirates must have a better answer for that strategy than it did last weekend.
WVU’s defense is led by MLB Reed Williams who missed most of last season due to a shoulder injury, but was the Big East’s leading tackler the year before. DT Scooter Berry is the leader of the line, while Chris Neild and Julian Miller are solid up front.
The Mountaineers will counteract with a strong running game of their own, led by 5-8 junior running back Noel Devine. As a sophomore, Devine was named all-Big East second team, and is the conference’s leading returning rusher.
Behind center, senior Jarrett Brown steps in to take the spot once vacated by the program’s best player of all time Pat White, who is now with the Miami Dolphins. Bill Stewart and his staff feel confident that he can lead the offense with his feet and his arm.
WVU’s biggest concern is its offensive line, which lost three starters from last year’s team and is really young this season. LT Don Barclay is a sophomore, while LG Josh Jenkins and C Joe Madsen are both freshmen. This could be an area while the Pirates could really hold a distinct advantage, as they counter with veterans C.J. Wilson, Linval Joseph, Jay Ross and Scotty Robinson.
If the Mountaineer’s line can give Brown enough time to throw, then it could be a problem as they boast two solid receivers in 6-2 senior Alric Arnett and 5-7 slot receiver Jock Sanders.
Aside from the line play, the key matchup today will be the Pirates’ return men versus WVU’s kickoff coverage.
Liberty racked up 161 yards on seven kickoffs last week, and took two past the 50. Returning kickoffs for ECU will be the speedster Harris, along with the elusive Lindsay.
ECU: The Pirates have to hope that the team that played in the first half against Appalachian State last weekend is the same team that takes the bus to Morgantown. Quarterback Patrick Pinkney (12-27, 131, I TD, 1 INT) must have a better game than last Saturday and prove he can hit his targets down field.
ECU will have to rush the ball effectively and punish WVU for playing only three down linemen. Look for the Pirates to strike with Brandon Jackson (5-52, 1 TD), Dominique Lindsay (15-111, 1 TD), Giavani Ruffin (7-19) and Jonathan Williams (4-15) between the tackles. ECU’s abandoning of the running game last week burned out the Pirates’ D in the second half, don’t expect them to make the same mistake twice.
Last Saturday ECU lined up in the wildcat with WR Dwayne Harris taking the snap and rushing to his left for four yards. Expect to see that formation about four or five times today.
WVU: Pat White is gone, but replacing him is a very capable Jarrett Brown. The 6-4, 223-pound senior has the strength and speed to give the Pirates’ fits today. The Mountaineers run a spread-option offense that usually features a lone back, and four wideouts. At 5-8, junior running back Noel Devine is the team’s biggest threat as the shifty back is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball.
Line play is an issue, as WVU lost three of its starting linemen from last year, most notably Mike Stanchek. RT Selvish Capers (6-5, 300) is the unit’s leader.
WR Alric Arnett and slot reciever Jock Sanders are talented and can turn short passes into long gains.
ECU: The Pirates’ defense played well last week. Defensive tackles Linval Joseph (7 tackles) and Jay Ross (5 tackles) did a tremendous job and will be a real problem to a WVU line that hasn’t had time to jell yet. Add star defensive end C.J. Wilson to the mix, along with the surprisingly strong play of backup Josh Smith, and ECU has a real advantage up front.
The big question is can the Pirates secondary, which will be playing without SS Levin Neal (ankle) and CB Emmanuel Davis (shoulder) be able to hang with the WVU wideouts.
WVU: The Mountaineers run a read-and-react 3-5-3 defense which could be a problem because of the Pirates are not accustom to seeing it. MLB Reed Williams is a stud, and is back after missing the most of the 2008 season with a shoulder injury. In 2007 Williams led the Big East in tackles. Another strong NFL prospect is junior DT Scooter Berry, who has started 19 consecutive games.
Special teams
ECU: The kicking situation still has not been settled, but all three of the ECU kickers performed well. Ben Hartman’s hip looked okay as he drilled a 26-yard field goal, and sophomore Ben Ryan converted all his extra point attempts. Matt Dodge did a nice job on kickoffs.
WVU: The Mountaineers have had trouble on kick coverage, which could be a big factor today as ECU’s returners, Travis Simmons and Dwayne Harris, have tons of speed and moves. Last week FCS Liberty was able to return two kicks past the 50-yard line. — Brian Haines