Pirates try to avoid getting tangled in 'Webb'|ECU must keep UAB quarterback in check

Published 5:41 am Saturday, November 21, 2009

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE – Looking to keep their destiny in their own hands, the Pirates’ race toward a second consecutive Conference USA championship will continue today when they take on Joe Webb and the UAB Blazers at 3:30 p.m. inside Dowdly-Ficklen Stadium.
East Carolina (6-4, 5-1) can clinch the East Division of Conference USA with a win over the Blazers (5-5, 4-2) and a little help from Tulsa (4-6, 2-4), who will be playing Southern Miss (6-4, 4-2) today at 6:30 p.m.
A Southern Miss win, coupled with a Pirate victory would set up a winner-take-all scenario the following week when the Golden Eagles come to Greenville to play ECU.
Before East Carolina can look ahead it must focus on the task at hand, stopping one of the most dynamic rushers in the league in Webb.
Pirates coach Skip Holtz said keeping his team’s eyes from jotting up the calendar has not been a problem this year.
“We look at each week as if we are in a single-elimination tournament. We have come this far and put ourselves in a great situation, but it’s all about finishing strong,” Holtz said. “The way we are looking at it now is that we are competing to win this division first, and if we are fortunate enough to win the division, then we will fight for the conference championship.”
UAB heads into Greenville with a three-game winning streak, the latest a 31-21 win over Memphis.
Webb powered the Blazers over the Tigers by throwing for 378 yards and three touchdowns, while running for 52 yards and one score.
While the 6-4, 220-pound senior quarterback can throw the ball, it’s his feet that has ECU worried the most.
Webb is Conference USA’s third leading rusher averaging 115 yards per game and has amassed 1,158 this season.
The Blazers’ QB set the C-USA record for most rushing yards by a quarterback last year with 1,021, and has smashed that by Week 10 this year.
Webb’s efforts have pushed UAB to the top of several offensive categories in the conference. UAB has the No. 1 rush offense (228 yards per game), the third highest scoring offense (28.5) and is fourth in total yards per game (406.4).
With Webb behind center, the Blazers are basically in a Wildcat formation the entire game.
“A lot of his runs are called runs, they are truly running the single-wing offense,” Holtz said. “They are snapping it to him, they are running him on the quarterback sweep, the quarterback Iso, the quarterback power play. Plus on top of that, he gets his ad-lib yards when he drops back to pass (and scrambles).”
The best comparison to what the Blazers do with Webb might be what Appalachian State did in the second half of the season opener against the Pirates when the Mountaineers put in Travaris Cadet at QB and just ran leads and other designed QB runs.
That style was extremely effective against the ECU, however, the Pirates’ defense has come a long way since Sept. 5.
Defensive coordinator Greg Hudson continues to do a great job with the ECU defense and seems to add a wrinkle every week.
Hudson has guided his unit to the top of Conference USA as the Pirates are No. 1 in scoring defense (21.4), total defense (350 yards per game) and red zone defense (70.6 percent), while ranking third in pass and rush defense.
A big part of that is the growth of the secondary, which has made the ever so worrisome long ball problems a thing of the past.
Now, the secondary varies from its standard zone defense, with some man-to-man looks. Against Tulsa, the Pirates occasionally showed press coverage and then would blitz the corner, something that was not done the first few weeks of the season.
“We have been very stagnant with our secondary and we have harped so bad about not giving up the big play, but as those guys are maturing I think we can start to give them more and more,” Holtz said.
To guard against Webb’s “ad-lib” yards, Hudson might use the same strategy he employed against Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor. To keep Taylor from scrambling on broken down pass plays, ECU used it’s its defensive tackles to spy at times, so if Taylor took off at least one down lineman would be there to stop him.
While the defense appears to be operating at maximum capacity, the offense appears to be catching up.
That unit had its best game of the year last week during ECU’s 44-17 thumping of Tulsa. Quarterback Patrick Pinkney hit on 20 of his 29 pass attempts for 275 yards, two TDs and no picks.
Running back Dominique Lindsay shook off persistent injuries and Tulsa defenders to run for 172 yards, while Darryl Freeney caught eight passes for a career-high 152 yards and a score.
The production of several players should take some of the focus off Mr. Everything Dwayne Harris, who is one reception away from tying current Kansas City Chief wideout Terrance Copper for third most catches on ECU’s all-time list with 139.
The Blazers run a 4-3 defense which emphasizes heavy pass rush by the defensive line by using an eight-man rotation. Safety Hiram Atwater leads the team in tackles with 71, while backup D-lineman Bryant Turner has a team-high six sacks.