Third Time's a Charm?

If nothing else, Saturday's opponent should have West Virginia's undivided attention. In each of the past two seasons, East Carolina has put a mountain-sized scare into the Mountaineers. On Saturday, the Pirates will look to capture their biggest win in program history.

Of course pulling off a victory of that magnitude is much easier said than done, especially against an opponent with the talent of West Virginia. The Mountaineers own a 16-2 advantage all-time over ECU, including a perfect 11-0 mark in Morgantown.

"We have a great challenge this week as we are playing an incredible football team in West Virginia," said third-year East Carolina head coach Skip Holtz on Monday at his weekly press luncheon. "Breaking down their offense, they have one of the fastest teams that I have seen on tape in a long time and they put you in space."

Obviously, Holtz has seen West Virginia's outstanding backfield duo of quarterback Patrick White and running back Steve Slaton up close the past two seasons. And, as mentioned above, he has had some success against the Mountaineers. Two years ago in Morgantown, the Pirates held WVU to just 127 net rushing yards on 46 attempts. Last year at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, the Mountaineers did a little bit better, but could still only manage 153 yards on the ground en route to a hard-fought victory.

"I have had the opportunity to coach our team against White and Slaton for the past two years," Holtz noted. "I think they have great talent, speed and athleticism. If you add (WVU freshman running back Noel) Devine to the mix, he may be better than Slaton as he is averaging 15 yards per carry. Their players on the offensive line are very athletic because they can run and be extremely physical."

Despite the success his team has had in slowing down the power spread, Holtz knows that previous results will have no effect on this weekend's meeting. The Mountaineers are averaging nearly 344 yards per game so far in 2007, and are picking up a ridiculous 7.16 yards per carry through the season's first three games.

"Everyone tries to do things schematically against their running game," he said. "It is like playing Navy in that people leave their base defense and go to a three or four-down line. What we have done the past two years is stick with what we know. We will have to play fast, run to the ball and tackle in the open field.

"More than anything, if you have a mistake in the secondary, it ends up being a long day," he continued, noting West Virginia's uncanny ability to hit the home run from anywhere on the field. "They have the breakaway speed that not many people can catch because they make you defend the whole field due to the option."

Without question, Holtz's defenders will be facing a completely different animal from anything they have seen in games against Virginia Tech, North Carolina, and Southern Miss this season.

"We have challenged our players to play base defense but our secondary is not as experienced as it has been in years past, so our guys will have to step to the challenge," noted the former Connecticut head coach. "We don't need missed assignments due to guys not knowing what they are supposed to be doing. Keeping it simple is what we will try to do."

Having played one of the nation's toughest schedules, at least in the early part of the season, Holtz and his team are no doubt battle-tested. Still, the second-generation head coach is well aware that anything less than maximum effort and execution will likely result in a third straight loss to West Virginia.

"This is a game that has been hard-fought the last two years as we lost 20-15 up there two years ago and played them very close here last season (in a 27-10 game that was closer than the final score indicated). I know it's going to be a tall order trying to slow down their running game for a third-consecutive year."

That is not to say that it cannot be done. As East Carolina has proven in the past, stopping the West Virginia ground game is not downright impossible. At the same time, it may not guarantee a victory.


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