Free Preview: ECU (3-2) at SMU (2-2)

The Mustangs return home after 35 days and look to avoid dropping below .500 on the season. Come inside PonyStampede.com for a free preview on the game!

ECU (3-2, 2-0 C-USA) at SMU (2-2, 1-0 C-USA) 7 P.M. Saturday, Radio: 1310 "The Ticket"

Series Record Against ECU: 0-2


SMU's June Jones: June Jones is in his second season at the SMU helm. His SMU record is 3-13 and his career mark is now 79-54. Jones went 76-41 in nine seasons at Hawaii, leading the Warriors to the All State Sugar Bowl in 2007. Prior to heading to Hawaii, Jones had a 12-year coaching career in the NFL, including head coaching stops at Atlanta and San Diego.

ECU's Skip Holtz: is 32-24 (.571) in his fifth season at East Carolina, while overall, he is in his 10th year as a collegiate head coach with a 66-47 (.584) record. When he became ECU's 19th all-time head football coach Dec. 3, 2004, Holtz officially finished a six-year stint as South Carolina's assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Prior to leading the Pirates to three-straight bowl appearances and earning Conference USA Coach-of-the-Year honors in 2008, Holtz helped guide the Gamecocks to back-to-back Outback Bowl wins over Ohio State (2001-2002).


Last time out: TCU Continues Stranglehold Over Iron Skillet
By George Brown

The Mustangs had two weeks to heal the wounds of a late quarter heartbreak at Washington State before they made the quick drive across I-30 into the western half of the Metroplex. Their opponent, the No. 10 ranked TCU Horned Frogs.

Although a road game, SMU fans could make the thirty minute drive to see the Mustangs live for the first time since their season opening win against Texas State. TCU fans where there to witness the Frogs first game after a tight-knit victory in South Carolina over Clemson. A packed Amon G. Carter Stadium bore witness to what would hopefully be a wild fight for an Iron Skillet. The skillet had been in TCU's possession since taking it back from SMU after the Mustangs stunning upset over the Frogs in 2005.

TCU's concerns were bigger than SMU. Being a non-BCS team still in search of it's first time as the "Bowl Crasher", winning every game this season is imperative. Attempting to remain perfect over 12 games is a unique task, forcing Coach Gary Patterson to keep his team pumped up for even the smallest of foe. By the tide is slowly turning in Dallas, and SMU is creeping out of the role of lamb to the slaughter, and working its way into the bull.

The first quarter showed some exciting potential for the SMU defense. Despite a hard uphill battle the Mustangs were expected to deal with against a firm defense, the Mustangs continually stopped the Frogs from scoring as well, allowing Mitchell to get his footing without having to worry about coming from behind. A perfectly executed screen pass from Mitchell to Shawnbrey McNeal opened the second quarter with a 7-0 lead for the Mustangs.

TCU got a touchdown on the next drive, but SMU's special teams stepped up once again, blocking the extra point, and maintaining SMU's lead 7-6. TCU then ran a 71 yard punt return in for a touchdown, giving them the lead.

Midway through the third, the Frogs fumbled the ball, which was recovered by SMU and taken to the 1 yard line. SMU was in great position to cut into TCU's 18-7 hold on the game, but after reviewing the fumble, it was decided that the ball was not fumbled. That reversed decision, which took over ten minutes to decide, was a blow that SMU could not ultimately recover from. The Mustangs suffered their second consecutive loss, 39-14.

Bo Levi Mitchell threw for both touchdowns, but added two more interceptions to his season total. His 240 passing yards is almost half of his season average, but was the most passing yards TCU has allowed in a game. SMU's rushing attack was worse than dismal, running for 16 yards, but June Jones is relying heavily on a multi-faceted passing attack to get the Mustangs over the hump.



SMU vs ECU story lines coming into the game

After starting the season with a win against SFA, the Mustangs have not seen their home field for 35 days.

SMU leads the nation in interceptions with 12.

SMU wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders leads the nation in receptions per game (10.8), ranks eighth in receiving yards per game (116.5) and rates third in punt return average (24.2). With 29 career TD grabs, Sanders is tied with Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State among active players in career touchdown catches. Because Bryant has been suspended for the season, the next touchdown catch for Sanders will make him the active leader. He's also fourth in catches (230) and fifth in yards (2,918) among current FBS student-athletes.

SMU and ECU are both undefeated in conference play.



Q&A with Skip Holtz:

On winning at Marshall:It was nice to go get a win at Marshall. When you look around the country, you realize how hard it is to win on the road. You look at the scores every week and you don't take any road win for granted.

There are a lot of things you get frustrated with and would have liked to have done better, but you can never take for granted the opportunity to go on the road and win, especially in a conference game.

I'm excited about the win, but at the same time, I realize there are a lot of things we need to improve.


On the defense at Marshall: From a defensive standpoint Saturday, I thought there were a million positives to build on. One of the big things we had talked about was to keep the ball in front of us and not to give up the big play. I thought our defense really did a really good job of that.

When you look at Darius Marshall, he had a run of at least 60 yards in every game he had played this season. The longest he had Saturday was 22, although that was for a touchdown.

I thought the defense did a really nice job keeping the ball in front of them. They created a couple of turnovers with the two interceptions. Obviously, the big fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter was huge.

We also had some young players step up. Matt Thompson got some quality plays in that game. Anthony Johnson, who has been here for a while, stepped in and created a little pressure at the very end of the game from his defensive end position.

The entire secondary played as well. Darryl Reynolds, Rahkeem Morgan, Derek Blacknall and Dekota marshall all played a significant role in that game. Not only did our starters play well, but a lot of our back-ups had the opportunity to step in and really contribute on defense.

I think we're playing really good zone coverage right now. We've got a really good grasp on it. Those three senior linebackers know where to be with that underneath coverage.

There are a couple things I would like to see us improve on, however. Obviously, I wasn't really excited with the first quarter. With the way the game started, it took us a little while to get adjusted to what they were doing and the flow and speed of the game.

We have to continue to have our foxhole mentality on defense where everybody stays in his gap. When you play a zone running team with a back as good as Darius Marshall, he can find those little seams. You have to play really disciplined football. Overall, I was very pleased with the way our defense played.


On the style of the Marshall game: It was an old-fashioned game. There weren't going to be a lot of turnovers. It was going to be a physical and hard-hitting game. Both teams were going to run the ball, play great defense and play solid special teams. It was a classic football game and was a well played game on both sides. Both teams fought extremely hard.


On the team's offense against Marshall: Offensively, I was excited to see us put some drives together. Two of the big bright spots were what we did on third down, converting 50 percent to keep some drives alive, and to take the ball into the redzone and put three touchdowns on the board. That was the difference in the game. We were both in the redzone three times. They scored two touchdowns and kicked a field goal down there and we scored three touchdowns.

I was really pleased with what we did offensively. It was nice to see Linval Joseph step over to that side of the ball and help us out on some short-yardage situations. He created some holes for our running backs to get into the end zone.

The offense did not allow a sack and had touchdown drives of 68, 76 and 80 yards. They did a good job of controlling the ball and making first downs.

We opened the game with a great drive when we went down and scored. I thought one of the keys to the game, though, was after Marshall went down and scored to go up 17-14 and kicked off to us, our offense put a 76-yard drive together and scored the game-winning touchdown.


On the special teams' performance: I thought the special teams' effort was excellent. Saturday I don't think we kicked the ball as well as we had to this point. It was windy and I don't know if that got into Matt Dodge's head a little bit or not. But I think Matt will come back strong.


On what needs to improve on offense: The things I'd like to see us do a little bit better on offense are to eliminate the missed assignments and the penalties. We shot ourselves in the foot a few times Saturday with two delay of game penalties and two false starts. All of a sudden we have 1stt-and-15 to make up; that's not easy to do.

We've got to get those cleaned up. We still have too many of those for being this late in the season. We're making the same mistakes, over and over and over. We have to continue to get better.

I would also like to see our yardage and point productivity to continue to increase. Right now, I think there are some things to build on from an offensive standpoint.


On this week's injuries: We came out of Saturday relatively healthy. We're black and blue and a little beaten up. We've had four very physical games with West Virginia, North Carolina, UCF and Marshall. Everybody is just a little bit sore right now.

Terence Campbell (shoulder) is the only one really in question coming off of Saturday's game.

Michael Bowman is going to be a question mark as he is starting to come back. He's going to start working with us a little more on offense and special teams. We just have to see if he's ready. With him, you're not really going to know until he takes a shot to that shoulder and you don't want that first hit to be on an opening kickoff. J.R. Rogers is also starting to rehab his knee to come back.

Those two are close to returning. I'm not sure if it'll be this week, but if it's not this week it'll certainly be next week.


On leading the East Division: There are no weeks off in this league. Having the opportunity to go play SMU, as I told the team the other day, there is going to be good news and bad news. The good news is that the win over Marshall moved you into first place in the East Division. The bad news is, everywhere you go, not only are you the defending Conference USA Champion, but also the team currently in first place in the East Division. We know we're going to get everybody's best shot. We know everybody is going to be fired up, emotional and ready to play against us.

I think one of the keys for our football team, and one of the keys Saturday, will be winning the intangibles. We need to make sure that from emotional, focus, attitude and preparation standpoints that we're doing all the little things we have to do in order to be a good football team.


On SMU: SMU has a really good football team. They're 2-2 right now. I think Coach Jones has done a really good job of building this program. When you look at the number of players that are back from last year and the improvements, it's really remarkable the job Coach Jones has done.

He walked into the program, he started over and cleaned house a little bit and said this is what we're going to play with. They played a lot of young guys last year and it's really paying off for them.


On SMU's offense: Offensively, they're throwing it all over the yard and putting up huge numbers. They're ranked second in the conference in passing offense. They're wide open and can score from anywhere. They have speed. If you were to compare their offense to one in our conference, they're most like Houston with the type of numbers SMU is putting up.

It all starts with their quarterback, Bo Levi Mitchell. He's second in the league in passing, averaging 305 yards a game. He has a very good running back in transfer Shawnbrey McNeal, who is a very explosive player.

Terrance Wilkerson is a really good play-making wide receiver in the back end. The guy who is just dynamite and lights you up is Emmanuel Sanders. He is really impressive. On punt returns, this season he has taken one back for a touchdown and another down to the five-yard line. He's explosive, leads the country in receptions per game and is second in C-USA in yards per game. He is a real play maker. I've been really impressed with him.

He's going to be a handful for our defense this week. It's going to be very hard to simulate him with what they do. We're going to have to try and get as much speed on the field against our defense as possible. We'll probably do a lot of our passing game against each other, where the defense can see live balls. The ball is going to be up in the air an awful lot this week.

SMU can score at any point in time and from anywhere on the field. That's what makes them dangerous. You try and pressure the quarterback, but then he throws a little screen out to the side. With the ability of Sanders to catch the ball and make some things happen in the open field, he can turn that little bubble screen into a 40-yard gain.

It's going to be a challenge for our defense this week. SMU is going to be totally different from anything we've played so far this season. The difference is the space SMU, Houston or UTEP puts you in. They make you defend the entire field, sideline to sideline. They're going to score a lot of points. It's almost like putting Navy into the middle of your schedule. When we played Navy a couple years ago, it was the first game of the season so we had all fall to prepare. This would be like throwing Navy in at the middle of the year and you've got one week to prepare.

There is very little carry over from what we had last week. We're just going to have to see about nickel and dime coverage. That's what we're deciding today and tomorrow is how much of those coverages we're going to run.


On SMU's defense: Defensively, SMU is kind of like Virginia was two years ago in playing a three-down front. They play a 3-4 with really active linebackers. Pete Fleps is all over the field and very active. Chase Kennemer is a transfer from Texas A&M. He's probably very similar to what Brandon Jackson is doing for us. Kennemer came in, sat out a year and is now starting. He's making a real impact on the defensive side of the ball at linebacker. Rock Dennis, the strong safety, is also impressive.

Playing a three-down line front, they are all between 280-290 pounds up front. But they're linebackers are all around 6-foot-0 and 6-foot-1. They can run and cause a lot of disruption. SMU is leading the country in interceptions with 12. They're leading Conference USA with 17 turnovers gained through four games. They're a very opportunistic defense. They're doing a lot of good things and can just give you so many different looks to create a lot of confusion. With only three down linemen, they can move guys around.

On offense, they're a fast-strike offense that can score from anywhere. The defense is so used to seeing the ball in the air every single day going against each other all through the spring and fall that their defense does a great job of playing the ball in the air. They also have some great pass defense schemes that they've put together.

Their special teams, beyond Sanders as a punt returner, has Bryan McCann, the kickoff returner, who is averaging 27 yards a return, second best in the league. They're very dangerous and very explosive.


On Coach Jones' impact on the SMU program: You can see the thumbprint Coach Jones has put on this program. When he was at Hawai'i his teams would score a lot of points and be wide open. He has come into SMU and put some pieces in place. He has been patient. They are giving their big-play guys a chance to make things happen in space.

Defensively, they create an awful lot of confusion. They're different than what we just played. They're not 320-pound linemen across the board. Instead, they're going to move, blitz, stunt, twist and drop into coverage. With eight guys they can drop into coverage, they have a lot more options than those teams playing a four-down front.

The trade off for that is that they only have four sacks in four games. But what they have given up in sacks, they have more than made up for in interceptions and turnovers created.


On preparing to go against SMU's defense: It's going to be hard this week. With a three-down line front, there are a lot of other moving pieces. With a four-down line front and playing against a stagnant defense, it's a lot easier to check plays from the sideline. You can see what they're in and put the offense in the best play to attack. "With this defense, the shell all looks the same. You have more moving parts because the linebackers can move in and out. It's easier to disguise blitzes and coverages. It'll be a little bit harder to check at the line this week. What we'll do is simplify the offense and make sure we're running more no-check plays.


On the difference between the East and West divisions in Conference USA: They're different, the two divisions. When you look at UCF, Marshall, Southern Miss and Memphis, they all have very physical defenses. They are big, strong, and physical and try to play lower-scoring games. These teams want to control the ball, punt it away, have great special teams, play solid defense and win lower-scoring games.

When you go to the West Division, it is full of wide-open offenses. The quarterbacks over there with Houston's Case Keenum, SMU's Mitchell and UTEP's Trevor Vittatoe are all very impressive. They're much more wide open on offense and throwing the ball all over the field. They're scoring an awful lot of points. It's almost like two totally different leagues. It's definitely more pass-happy in the West.


On if the offensive game plan changes knowing SMU is going to pass: If you look at the Top 20 defenses in the country, not many of them are married to a Top 20 offense in the country. The offensive and defensive schemes have to fit together. I think the two sides of the ball have to go together in order to make it work.

For us, we're going to have to find a happy medium. We're not going to be able to just open it up, go to one-back and four-wide sets and throw the ball all over the field, especially with this defense SMU has. Last year when we played some of our West Division opponents, we kind of went into the game with a certain approach, but said we were going to see how the contest went. If we can create some turnovers and put some points on the board early, maybe you change your scheme a little bit in the middle of the game.

It is way too early for me to tell what we're going to do on Monday. I was proud of the way our offense controlled the ball Saturday, though. I'm encouraged with what I saw. There are obviously a number of things we still have to improve on, but I was encouraged.


On Patrick Pinkney running the ball and making plays: Two years ago, he was more of a threat running threat than he has been last year than early this year. I would like to see Patrick be able to carry the ball a little bit more. With a freshman and redshirt freshman backing him up, I'm not looking for 15 carries a game.

For him to do what he did Saturday, if he can put two or three of those in a game when he drops back in the pocket and takes off, that would be great. I'm not talking about designed off-tackle runs like we're doing with Dwayne Harris.

I'm talking about when coverage breaks down, it's third down and they're blitzing. Brian Anderson of Marshall did a great job of that Saturday against us. I'd like to see Patrick be able to do more of that instead of just throwing the ball away. He can utilize his feet a little bit more. It was nice to see that.

He needs to be more of a runner, at times, for us offensively. When defenses spread out, play more man coverage and only rush three guys, if the play is not there, I don't want him to just throw the ball away. I would like him to put the ball under his arm, run for five yards and make it second-and-five. That's smart football, moving the chains and moving forward. Those are little successes that we need to do a better job with.


On playing a night game at SMU: I don't know that the time difference will be that big of a deal. When you look at SMU right now, they're third in the conference in attendance. Coach Jones has created a lot of excitement, energy and enthusiasm in that program. They're 2-2 and people are really rallying behind them.

Being a night game, it's going to be a lively situation. It'll be a great atmosphere. I'm really looking forward to going and playing in it. It'll be more difficult, but I enjoy playing in those atmospheres.


On ECU's offense controlling the tempo against SMU: It's going to boil down to who is going to control the football game. SMU has done such a good job of creating turnovers on defense and then being high-powered on offense. We can't let them play their game. We have to keep the ball in front us of. The homerun ball is going to be critical, just as important as it was last week. We can't give up the homerun balls.

It's going to be about which team's will is going to be forced. They have been a very active defense; we have been a very stagnant defense. We have to keep the ball in front of us.

That's one of the neat match-ups when the East Division teams play the West Division teams. It's about who is going to step up. Is it going to be the West's offense or the East's defense?


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