Preview: West Virginia - East Carolina

East Carolina's season opening 27-22 win over Virginia Tech has some observers sitting up and taking notice of the Pirates, who may well be the best team in the state of North Carolina again this year.






BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Series: WVU 17-2
Sat 09/06/08 4:30 PM
Greenville, NC

Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium
Record: 1-0
USA: 8th
Last Game
Villanova W 48-21

Click for Greenville, North Carolina Forecast
Record: 1-0
USA: 28
Last Game
VaTech W 27-22
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule
First Meeting: 1970
Last Meeting: 2008
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule

Injuries:

WVU - Wes Lyons (Knee) Probable, Reed Williams (Shoulder) Questionable, Brantwon Bowser (Knee) Doubtful, Zach Hulce (Shoulder) Probable

ECU - Fred Hicks (Ankle) Probable, Sean Allen (Shoulder) Questionable, Dwayne Harris (Groin) Questionable, Jerek Hewett (Ankle) Questionable, J.R. Rogers (Ankle) Questionable, Ben Hartman (Leg) Doubtful

Game Outlook:

WVU offense vs. ECU defense

Bill Stewart made it very clear after the game against Villanova that the Mountaineers will not be afraid to throw the ball. Pat White had a great start to his season and proved early on in the year that he can throw the ball effectively. The offensive line of West Virginia will have a lot to contend with upfront against East Carolina but there should be a lot of optimism surrounding the new found passing game.

East Carolina will return all four starters and nine lettermen on the defensive line that will likely send a couple of players to the NFL has both depth and size. Zack Slate and C.J. Wilson are the defensive ends and Jay Ross, Khalif Mitchell, and Linval Joseph are 300-pounders that clog running lanes on the inside and can make life miserable for most offensive lines in the country. While there might not be much room for Noel Devine to run free, White should have time to throw the ball. Last season East Carolina sacked the opposing quarterback just 27 times all season and finished 60th overall in that category and two years ago finished last in the league in sacks.

The secondary is the weakness of the defense and especially in pass coverage. Last season the secondary got beat downfield often and lacked a true shutdown corner. The secondary finished last season 114th overall against the pass and while the secondary should be more experienced it isn't likely to see a total transformation in just one season. Jerek Hewett and Darryl Reynolds will be the starting corners and the anchor of the secondary will be starting free safety and converted linebacker Van Eskridge. Eskridge lead the team last year with 104 tackles and had 6.5 tackles for a loss. His weakness is that he will look for the big hit rather than going for the ball which makes him prone to the big play.

The linebackers strength is their athleticism. They all move like safeties and have the ability to make plays from sideline to sideline and string out runs. Their speed will also make it tough for Devine to get to the edge of the read option plays. With that said the linebackers are also undersized and can be pushed around by a physical offensive line. The top returner will be Pierre Bell who played through numerous injuries last year to record 97 tackles.

The size of the defensive line and speed of the linebackers will make it difficult for West Virginia to run. The matchup between these units will be the experienced offensive line of WVU against the equally experienced defensive line of East Carolina. The passing game should be the key to success for West Virginia on Saturday. As long as White can stay off the ground he should have another fine afternoon throwing the ball.

By The Numbers :
WVU is ranked 65th in total offense (354 yds/game), 58th in rushing offense (149 yds/game) and 54th in passing offense (205 yds/game)

ECU is ranked 66th in total defense (374 yds/game), 29th in rushing defense (134 yds/game) and 29th in pass efficiency defense (94.27 rating).

Advantage: WVU

WVU defense vs. ECU offense

The defense of West Virginia looked less than stellar against Villanova and most concerning was how well Villanova was able to control the clock. The Wildcats ran 87 plays and recorded 28 first downs. West Virginia also allowed 266 yards through the air. The good news was that they were able to force two turnovers and created some timely sacks but East Carolina's offense will present more problems for the West Virginia Defense.

Patrick Pinkney saw the majority of the action against Virginia Tech and played well. Pinkney completed 82% of his passes for 211 yards and a touchdown. Pinkney poses as a threat to run as well as pass and is not afraid to take off. Last year West Virginia was able to hold Pinkney to just 48 yards passing through the air. Don't be surprised to see Rob Kass step in and take some snaps on Saturday as well. Kass is a strong armed pocket passer who split time with Pinkney last year. Kass saw limited action against Virginia Tech only attempting two passes and completing none of them.

At tailback East Carolina lost Chris Johnson from last years team to the NFL. Seniors Dominique Lindsay and Brandon Simmons will shoulder most of the load at running back. Lindsay is a tough inside runner at 5-10 and 210 pounds and has three seasons of experience. The primary backup to Johnson a year ago, he carried 66 times for 205 yards and five touchdowns, adding nine catches for 58 yards and another score.

Junior Jamar Bryant stepped up last season and did a nice job of succeeding all-star Aundrae Allison, leading the Pirates with 48 catches for 704 yards and six touchdown catches. A physical 6-2, 208-pounder, he's an asset in traffic and as a downfield blocker. Originally a Georgia Bulldog, he has the all-around talent to follow Allison into the NFL in a couple of years.

For the first time in the Skip Holtz era, East Carolina has an offensive line that goes two-deep with experienced players. The most talented player on the line is from the right guard spot in 6-3, 300-pound junior Doug Palmer, a 13-game starter who earned honorable mention All-Conference USA honors. After bouncing between offensive and defensive line since arriving, he's finally going to stay put. He is the most physical of the blockers and will be a force on straight-ahead running plays.

One key statistic from last weeks game against Virginia Tech to watch for in the game against West Virginia will be how well the offense of East Carolina protects the football. Against Virginia Tech, East Carolina fumbled the ball four times and lost two of them. It will be difficult for East Carolina to continue to win a lot of football games while being that careless with the football.

The defense should be improved from last week for the Mountaineers but this offense will be much more talented than what they saw last week. East Carolina runs a similar spread offense as Villanova and has a similar dual threat quarterback in Pinkney. Last year the defense smothered Pinkney allowing just 48 yards through the air but after watching the first games for both teams it doesn't look like it will be so easy this year.

By The Numbers :
WVU is ranked fourth in total defense (262.13 yds/game), 15th in rushing defense (101.13 yds/game) and 49th in pass efficiency defense (161.38 rating).

ECU is ranked 60th in total offense (369 yds/game), 56th in rushing offense (158 yds/game) and 52nd in passing offense (211 yds/game).

Advantage: ECU

WVU special teams vs. ECU special teams

Handling the kicking for East Carolina will be junior kicker Ben Hartman. Hartman had some ups and downs last season. He made the game winning field goal against Boise State and North Carolina but also missed attempts from 27, 28 30, 32 (twice) and 37. In the game against Virginia Tech he missed an extra point.

Dwayne Harris will handle the punt returns and can be an explosive punt returner. Harris will also be used on kick returns. The Pirates will return its kicker, punter, senior long snapper as well as a junior holder.

By The Numbers :
WVU is ranked 13th in net punting (42.5 yds/punt), 20th in kick returns (26.7 yds/return) and 8th in punt returns (25.5 yds/return).

ECU is ranked 82nd in net punting (30.0 yds/punt), 95th in kick returns (11.5 yds/return) and 15th in punt returns (22.0 yds/return)

Advantage: WVU

Picks to Click:

On Offense: Jock Sanders

On Defense: Scooter Berry

Prediction:

This game should be a hard fought close battle. The talent of WVU and the experience they have on offense should prevail. It will be interesting to see how the defense plays against a much more talented offense. Overall the ability of Pat White to throw the ball on a weak secondary and the turnovers by East Carolina will be the difference in the game.

WVU - 28 ECU - 17


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