Pirates look to sustain momentum|Will host Memphis on Saturday

Published 2:47 pm Wednesday, September 8, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — Two days after East Carolina’s thrilling 51-49 last-second, season-opening win over Conference USA foe Tulsa Pirates’ first-year head coach Ruffin McNeill was thrilled with the way the victory energized his team, but vowed to not let the team’s success go to its head.
“I’m pretty good at bringing them down and bringing them back to earth,” McNeill said.
The Pirates (1-0, 1-0) will head into their second straight Conference USA battle as they host Memphis Saturday at noon. While ECU was able to gut out a win over the Golden Hurricane, the team has plenty of room for improvement and McNeill said he expects to see that this weekend.
“The biggest improvement comes from Game 1 to Game 2 and them from Game 2 to Game 3,” McNeill said. “A lot of guys were pumped and excited for the home game, but they got that out of their system. Now, the fundamentals and techniques feel a lot more limb. … The fundamentals will instantly improve with a game under their belt.”
East Carolina will take on a Memphis team that is in a similar situation to its own, however, how each team got there is drastically different.
The Pirates were a victim of their own success as larger programs came calling for coach Skip Holtz after he led his team to two straight C-USA titles. Memphis’ head coaching spot became vacant after the Tigers went 2-10 under coach Tommy West’s watch.
McNeill inherited a team with talent and a recent history of winning, while new Memphis’ new coach Larry Porter has his work cut out for him.
Porter, a former Memphis running back, takes over a team that lost its biggest stars as RB Curtis Steele is now playing for the Ravens and WR Duke Calhoun is on the N.Y. Giants. Memphis also lost 6-8 WR Carlos Singleton, whom with Calhoun, practically rewrote the Tigers’ record book.
Memphis (0-1) heads into Greenville fresh off of a 49-7 thumping by Mississippi State in its opener.
Also like the Pirates, Memphis has had a QB battle all summer long between Cannon Smith, a sophomore transfer from Miami, and freshman Ryan Williams.
Smith is a the son of FedEx founder and CEO Fred Smith, which is like being a Ford in Detroit, and started against Mississippi State but was quickly pulled in favor of Williams. Smith was put back into the game in the second half after it had become a blowout and led the Tigers on their only scoring drive.
As for ECU, the questions about its QB situation seems to finally be over as junior transfer Dominique Davis beat out sophomore walk-on Brad Wornick and threw for 383 yards and five touchdowns to top Tulsa. In a press conference last week when asked about the quarterback battle McNeill claimed it was still ongoing and that he was not hiding anything from the fans or the media. However, Davis admitted he had known well in advance that he would be Sunday’s starter.
McNeill said on Tuesday that Davis’ leadership and experience was the deciding factor in naming him the starter.
“Probably his experience, but I think how quickly he picked up the offense (was a factor). I think Brad pushed him quite a bit from day-to-day,” McNeill said. “I thought Dominique getting in on the first day of summer school and being around the team helped. I think one of the biggest indicators of how much Dominique has earned respect was when we voted on captains – we vote on captains weekly here because I want to spread the leadership around – but when we voted on them it was not by one or two votes, it was an unanimous vote for Dominique by his teammates.”