West Virginia on Tap for Pirate Opener

East Carolina's 2004 football season begins this Saturday against heavily favored West Virginia.

The Mountaineers are ranked 10th in the AP Poll. Considering the fact that ECU is coming off a dismal 1-11 season under Coach John Thompson, few are expecting a Pirates' victory in Morgantown.

For their part, WVU fans are abuzz in anticipation. Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez recognizes the high expectations, "We know that there are a lot of eyes on us and that adds a certain amount of responsibility and we'll see if we're mature enough to handle it." The new Pirate "Fun-n-Gun" offense that has been installed by Pirate offensive coordinator Noah Brindise, a Steve Spurrier disciple has the WVU coaches a little concerned. Says Rodriguez, "Being that it's the first game we're not exactly sure what facets or parts of the Fun-n-Gun they're going to use." The pass-happy attack promises to deliver a few more points this year. Last season ECU averaged only 18.1 points per game.

The ECU offense will be lead by sophomore quarterback James Pinkney (6-3, 208). Pinkney started the last three games of the 2003 season. The Pirates' running attack features two 1000-yard backs in Art Brown and Marvin Townes. Brown is back after sitting out the 2003 season with a knee injury. The Pirate receiving corps include converted running back Robert Tillman, Will Bland, Bryson Bowling, Brian Howard, Bobby Good and Juwon Crowell. In preseason practice Pinkney spoke highly of his targets, "The receivers in general are doing a good job, all running good routes. Robert Tillman is going to be a good addition to the receiving corps. He's fast. He's got to work on his routes more, but he has good hands."

The Pirate defense will be trying to gain some lost respect from 2003 when it surrendered a total of 2519 rushing yards (210 avg. per game), 2396 passing yards(200 avg. per game, and 428 total points (35 avg. per game). Defensive coordinator Jerry Odom has made stopping the run his team's number one priority. ECU will sport 3-3-5 and 4-3-4 defensive systems much of the time, relying heavily on speed and quickness on the defensive front. Defensive line coach Art Kaufmann speaks confidently of his group, "I think some of the little fundamental things we're starting to get a grasp of, some of the foundation things," Kaufman said. "Especially the guys who have been with me a little bit, like Koonce and Whimper and Shauntae Hunt and Dontre Brown. The carry over from a year ago, there's a lot of it. That's the big thing is they're studying hard and understanding what I'm saying now and are able to coach each other. It makes a big difference."

On the West Virginia side of the ball, the Mountaineers are expected to run right at the Pirates. Last year they amassed 361 rushing yards in coasting to a 48-7 win. Gone are star backs Avon Cobourne and Quincy Wilson, but their replacements Kay-Jay Harris and Jason Colson are expected to fill the void adequately.

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