The likeness is one reason East Carolina has had much defensive success against West Virginia in the last two meetings, 20-15 and 27-10 Mountaineer wins in 2005 and '06, respectively. The Pirates have held WVU to 160 or less rushing yards in the two games and bottled Slaton. The back has maxed out at 80 yards in one contest, and even bruiser Owen Schmitt has been held in check by a combination of physical play and solid tackling in space. Add in West Virginia's less-than-exceptional execution, and third-year head coach Skip Holtz has seemingly found the formula to compete with the No. 5 Mountaineers, if not defeat them.
"Seeing our offense over and over again in practice has to help," Schmitt said. "Also, we didn't execute as well in some places and they executed really well. I can only imagine how difficult it is to stop Pat and Steve in this kind of offense. They did well."
East Carolina leads Conference USA in rush defense (86 ypg) and turnover margin (plus-two) and is third in total defense (361.3 ypg) and scoring defense (25.3 ppg). A recent talent surge has allowed Holtz to plug in players with better initial skill sets who have superior tackling skills and the ability to match-up one-on-one. West Virginia's idea of stretching the field horizontally to get vertical would seem to feed into the strengths of the Pirate multiple look defense, but of now ECU's raw physical level has yet to match that of the Mountaineers. Last season, it was receiver Darius Reynaud's 60-yard catch-and-run off a bubble screen that was the difference maker, turning a 17-10 game in the fourth quarter into a 24-10 WVU edge that became the 27-10 final. In 2005, Antonio Lewis' 76-yard punt return in the second quarter and wideout Brandon Myles' 10-yard touchdown catch provided enough of a halftime cushion (20-6) to allow West Virginia to hold on despite nine unanswered second half East Carolina points.
This season, the main match when the Mountaineers have the ball seems to be West Virginia's rush game and ability to go vertical with Reynaud against East Carolina's run stuffers. Unlike Maryland, the Pirates' best defense is the defense itself, and not the notion that it can somehow offensively control the ball against West Virginia for 42-plus minutes, as Terps' head coach Ralph Friedgen wanted to do. Instead, East Carolina simply applies pressure to the playmakers on every snap and allows its talent to make stops. Its offense is asked not to win games, but to protect the ball and make enough gains to give the team a solid chance.
On the flip side, the Mountaineers' veteran defensive secondary and linebacking corps would seem to have an edge over Pinkey, making just his third career start behind a relatively inexperienced offensive line. The quarterback played well in later action in the opening game at Virginia Tech, a 17-7 Hokies' win. He then put up a school-second-best 406 passing yards with three touchdowns in the victory over North Carolina before ECU fell to C-USA opponent Southern Miss 28-21 after allowing the Golden Eagles to score the final 14 points of the game.
"He is a great quarterback with great legs and a great arm," WVU cornerback Larry Williams said. "He looks like a four-year starter. He looks great on film. We have to focus on him, but they have athletes and wideouts who can catch and run. And ECU has always been a good squad. It will be very difficult. They tend to run the same offense we run, so we have to be prepared. It's the fourth round, fourth game and we are on a mission to accomplish our goals."
Another are of concern for the East Carolina offense is that, in averaging just 101 rush yards per game, it has been unable to control the clock. That works fine for West Virginia, whose quick-strike ability and average of 500-plus yards of offense and 47 points per game largely negate the major worries about time management. But ECU, which has been behind and needing to throw often, has averaged just 20.7 points per game while allowing 25.3 in its 1-2 start. Part of it is the youthful line, and part that Pinkney is often flushed and running and thus unable to locate prime downfield targets. But it's a worry for Holtz, especially against West Virginia's 3-3-5 odd stack defense that has held foes to averages of 20.3 points, 80.7 rush yards and has 12 sacks and 41 negative and turnover plays combined on the season.
"I think we have gotten better each of the last three weeks," said linebacker Reed Williams, WVU's leading tackler. "We are getting more and more experience and executing well as the talent gets better each week. I am sure our coaches have some things rolling in their minds for those young guys up front. But they will be prepared for whatever we throw at them."
Said linebacker Mortty Ivy: "We go against talented players every day in Pat and Steve. We have to stay level and make a play. We play against two guys everybody says is the main duo out there. If we can stop them, we can stop anybody."