Stats point towards progress for ECU|Pirates make big leaps on both sides of the ball

Published 8:29 pm Tuesday, September 29, 2009

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — East Carolina’s 19-14 win over the University of Central Florida on Saturday not only gave the Pirates a 1-0 record in Conference USA, but a morale boost that will most certainly come in handy as they hit the road the next two weeks to play Marshall and SMU, respectively.
“I got to say how nice it was to get back on the winning track this weekend,” East Carolina coach Skip Holtz said at his weekly Monday morning press conference. “It’s always a nice boost, or a shot in the arm to get a little morale going with a ‘W’.”
The Pirates (2-2, 1-0) should have more upbeat attitude at work this week, and they should after snapping a two-game losing skid. While a 19-14 win over UCF isn’t going to make national headlines, there was a lot of progress made and it was a good step in the right direction.
After being shutout in the sack department for two straight weeks ECU got after UCF quarterback Brett Hodges and recorded four sacks. Star defensive end C.J. Wilson picked up his first of the year and assisted on another one, while Linval Joseph and Chris Mattocks each wrapped up Hodges for a loss.
The Pirates’ defense was more aggressive from a scheme standpoint, as evident from the Knights’ first snap of the game when MLB Nick Johnson blitzed up the middle to hurry Hodges.
Holtz said the combination of deciding to blitz more, along with having the lead for most of the game, allowed his defense to pin its ears back and go after the quarterback.
East Carolina’s ability to rush Hodges was a big contributing factor in creating turnovers, as the Pirates’ picked off four Hodges’ passes, and recovered one fumble.
“The defensive, I thought played exceptionally well,” Holtz said. “They created five turnovers, they did a great job of getting off the field, UCF only had the ball for 25 minutes.”
East Carolina’s offense also exhibited progress as quarterback Patrick Pinkney finally broke the 200-yard passing barrier, as he hit on 27 of 40 passes for 293 yards and a TD pass.
Another standard was achieved on Saturday when the team broke the century mark in rushing yards. Brandon Jackson led the way as he carried the ball 20 times for 88 yards. As a team, ECU ran 38 times for 110 yards.
The Pirates’ offense isn’t asked to do too much to win games, and if it can consistently throw for more than 250 yards and rush for over 100 while not turning the ball over, ECU’s chances of winning are high.
While the Pirates turned the ball over three times on Saturday (two fumbles, one INT), it was Jonathan Williams’ first quarter fumble in the red-zone that has had the most reverberations.
Williams has had two costly fumbles in back-to-back games, which landed him a spot on the bench and the bottom of the running backs rotation for the foreseeable future.
Fellow running back Dominique Lindsay (shoulder) is officially listed as questionable for the upcoming game against Marshall, but more than likely will not play. Also out for this Saturday are WR Michael Bowman (arm), RB J.R. Rogers (knee) and DT Allison Armstrong (foot), neither are expected back anytime soon.
Holtz said that the team did not sustain any major injuries against the Knights, and was thrilled to get production from safety Levin Neal and corner Emmanuel Davis.
ECU will need all the help it can muster on defense this week as it looks to keep Thundering Herd running back Darius Marshall in check, along with all-American candidate tight end Cody Slate. Marshall rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns this week in the Herds’ (3-1, 1-0) win over Memphis, and has ripped of runs of 60 yards or more in each of his first three games. Marshall leads Conference USA in rushing with a 166 yards per game average and 498 yards despite missing the season opener due to suspension.
Complimenting a dangerous rushing attack is a staunch defense led linebacker Mario Harvey, DE Albert McClellan and CB DeQuan Bembry.
McClellan is sixth all-time on the Marshall sack list, while Harvey tallied 107 tackles last year as a sophomore. Bembry, a highly-touted sophomore, made the all-conference freshman team.