ECU offense looks to get back on track|Face No. 24 UNC on Saturday

Published 5:56 pm Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sports Writer

GREENVILLE — East Carolina quarterback Patrick Pinkney threw for a career-high 406 yards and tallied three TD passes in the school’s 34-31 win over North Carolina in 2007. This weekend the Pirates would be happy if he just broke 250 when they hit the road to take on the No. 24 Tar Heels this Saturday at noon.
After ECU’s 35-20 loss to West Virginia this weekend, in which the offense posted zeroes in the third and fourth quarters for the second consecutive week, Pinkney and the Pirates’ offense must recapture the chemistry from recent seasons, before it reverts back to its ways of the past.
East Carolina’s second-half play is cause for concern, but not a reason to push the panic button. Best case scenario is that the double goose eggs are just some odd coincidence. It’s hard to believe that the team goes into halftime and forgets everything it has practiced after the break, or that head coach Skip Holtz and his crew are just being completely out-schemed during intermission. This team and its coaching staff has banked up enough credit to earn the benefit of the doubt on this one. It wasn’t too long ago that Pirates’ fans would have been happy just to be close to the Mountaineers at halftime.
With that being said, the trend is still alarming, and on Monday during his weekly press conference Holtz acknowledged that the offense is misfiring and defended his quarterback.
“On offense, it’s not like it’s one position that’s hurting you,” Holtz said. “It’s just we are not clicking.
“I don’t think we need to change our personnel. It’s just right now there is a little something missing, whatever that ingredient is. In the first half in both games I felt pretty pleased with the offense. But we have to evaluate what we are doing at halftime. We are not doing anything different than what we have done the last four years. For some reason we just haven’t been able to jell. (Some people might say we are getting tired), but we came out and went three-and-out after halftime, so I don’t think they are tired after a 20 minute break in the locker room. … There are a lot of things we have to improve on and get better.”
Holtz said that he and his staff have discussed alternatives to playing Pinkney.
“We have talked about what our other options are at this point,” Holtz said. “Again, I don’t think this is all Patrick. If the four drops are caught (during the WVU game), now he has completed 20 passes, and if the two tackles don’t have pressure while the receiver is wide open, now you complete five more, and all of a sudden he is 25-of-40 and has had a heck of a game and we are not having this discussion.
“… (But benching him) is something that we have considered and something that we have talked about. … There have been a couple of options talked about and different things you could do: Do you play a couple of the young quarterbacks? Do you put a (freshman) Josh Jordan in there? Do you play him and simplify what you do and get him some experience? Do you move Rob (Kass) back (from FB) to the quarterback position? The unfortunate part of that is that he is giving us 20 good snaps at the fullback position. There is a lot of things to look at right now, and I don’t have all the answers at this point.”
While Pinkney, who hit on 16 of his 39 attempts against WVU for 175 yards with one TD and one pick, is the first person people will look at to assign blame, the offensive line and running backs should get their fair share, too. East Carolina managed to gain only 62 rushing yards, which is shameful for a team that has so many good backs and linemen.
“We are going to have to improve it drastically,” Holtz said of the running game. “If you look at the times we turned and really handed off the ball to the running backs and let them run down hill, I thought we did it decently. Not consistently enough, but when you start putting sacks into (the statistics) and take the last few possessions in the fourth quarter when we are down two scores and are throwing it each down your stats don’t show up as much…. How important is it (to the offense)? It’s critical when you are not throwing the ball well.
“If you are clicking on offense and you have a quarterback that is really dialed in and accurate, then it’s not that as big of a deal, because when you are running it against a weaker box because everybody is spread out … But when you are not throwing it and they can pin their ears back, play man coverage and fill the box and say ‘throw it to beat me,’ it makes it tough.”
The Pirates’ inconsistent offense appeared to be the glaring issue on Saturday, but their defense wasn’t that sharp either. Though the stats might make it look worse than the unit actually played, the fact is the defense let up a ton of big plays.
East Carolina surrendered 509 total yards to the Mountaineers, which breaks down to 334 passing and 175 rushing.
The Pirates were able to get pressure, but that only seemed to work against them as WVU quarterback Jarrett Brown did a fantastic job escaping pressure and finding open receivers. Brown threw four TD passes, with two of them being over 40 yards.
“They had 509 yards of total offense and 267 of them came on eight plays,” Holtz said. “For 60 plays I thought we were a hell of a defense. For eight plays, I think we had a couple of breakdowns and I think there are some things we have to shore up.”
Injury updates
Pirates’ wide receiver Jamar Bryant dislocated his finger during the West Virginia game, but had it pushed back into place and continued to play. The injury is not expected to make him miss any time versus UNC. Running back Dominique Lindsay hurt his shoulder Saturday and is listed as “out” for this Saturday. The injury has vaulted Jonathan Williams into the starting position alongside Brandon Jackson, while Norman Whitley slides up to Williams’ spot on the depth chart.
On the defensive side of the ball it looks like starting safety Levin Neal (ankle), along with back up cornerback Emanuel Davis will be back on the field Saturday. Both are listed as questionable, so its unclear how much time either will get.