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 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
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.