Old Nemesis Awaits ECU
by Josh Spence

Thanks to a record setting defensive effort East Carolina notched its first win of the season against Memphis last Saturday.  For ECU the win couldn’t have come at a more crucial time.  With West Virginia, Virginia, and defending C-USA champion Tulsa looming as the next three games on the Pirates schedule, a loss would likely have meant chalking up the season as yet another in the long process of rebuilding.  Enter the Pirate defense. 

In front of 37,431, the most at home for ECU since the 2004 season opener when the Pirates had 38,000 plus versus Wake Forest, the Pirates used five interceptions and a Dowdy-Ficklen stadium record 155 interception return yards on their way to a second half shutout and 35-20 win over Memphis.  It is the largest margin of victory in the tenure of Head Coach Skip Holtz. 

The Pirate defense must have been tired of the offense’s inability to convert turnovers into points, as ECU returned two interceptions for touchdowns, the first points scored by Holtz’ defense since his arrival.  Previously the Pirates had scored 0 points off of the first seven turnovers of the season.

One of the more memorable Pirate performances followed a half I’m sure everybody involved is ready to forget.  ECU struggled to find rhythm offensively scoring 7 points on its first seven drives, including two drives in the third quarter.  Those first seven drives included the score, two missed field goals, a punt, a fumble and two interceptions.  I guess you could call that struggling.

Defensively the Pirates struggled in the first half, as Memphis pretty much did as they pleased.  However in the second half the defense stepped up like they had all year, and then some.  Greg Hudson’s crew forced six turnovers including the five interceptions on their way to the second half shutout. 

A loss in this game would have left ECU with little hope of a winning season, much less a bowl game.  But it’s only the third game, you say.  But I say it’s an 0-3 record with a good chance of doubling that to 0-6, as ECU awaits WVU, UVA, and Tulsa (combined record 6-3) in the coming weeks.  With such a young team the Pirates would have lacked the confidence it will take to beat such teams, and would have been in for a long season. 

But they pulled it out.  Now, ECU has momentum heading into the game next week as West Virginia brings a number four ranking and National Championship aspirations to Greenville.  Just the opposite of last week, this game is not a must win.  Although many within the program won’t admit it, at least not now, a good showing can mean a “moral victory” for ECU.  Basically, you can lose this game and still feel confident heading into the next week.

I don’t know if you saw last Thursday night’s game between West Virginia and Maryland, but WVU was putting on a clinic.  The Mountaineers used a strong run game to take a 28-0 lead in the first quarter.  The offense was very good, but especially running-back Steve Slayton, who went off with almost 150 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns in the 1st quarter.  Kirk Herbstreit at one point called him “one of the speediest backs in the country,” and then later “one of the best backs in the country.”  Slayton had been rested before that game having only played two series the previous week.  Now, having played on Thursday night, WVU has an extra two days rest on the Pirates. 

The Mountaineers now boast the top run game in the country, averaging more than 348 yards per game.  That’s scary considering the Pirates recent lack of success defending their old nemesis, the run game.  Bottom line is that this team is the real deal, and at this point I do not envy the position of Pirates defensive coordinator Greg Hudson.

Not to mention the offense.  Maryland has a beast of an offensive line, yet WVU was still getting pressure to the QB all night long.  It will be a tall order indeed however, they will be at the Pirates house.  And we all remember how well the Pirates played in Morgantown last year.  In addition, the Pirates seemed to flourish playing against a team running a spread offense.  Memphis ran a very similar system last week, but it has been perfected by Rich Rodriguez and West Virginia. 

A huge opportunity lay ahead for ECU.  It’s not every year you get a shot to knock off a top five team, especially at your place. 

Josh Spence