East Carolina readies for North Carolina

Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

For the second consecutive week, East Carolina blew an early lead. Only last week’s game against West Virginia resulted in a loss.

The Pirates led 10-0, but West Virginia took a 21-20 lead at half and ultimately won 35-20. It wasn’t the way coach Skip Holtz envisioned the season going especially since he returned nearly every player from a team that upset West Virginia a year ago, but the Pirates had trouble on offense and couldn’t stop the big plays on defense. Now, it has a week to regroup and get ready in-state rival North Carolina.

“You worry about your team's attitude when you reach your first loss, especially a team that has high expectations and goals,” Holtz said. “Meeting with the players Sunday, they're a little bit down as expected. … With all that being said about West Virginia, the challenge escalates that much more this week for a number of reasons -- it's an in-state game that is very emotional for our players, fan base and alumni. With the North Carolina and East Carolina fan bases being so intertwined, there's an awful lot that goes into this game emotionally. It's going to be difficult.”

North Carolina has had its struggles, too. It nearly lost to Connecticut last week, but was saved by a safety call in the end zone and walked away with a 12-10 comeback win.

Holtz said East Carolina, which had 237 yards of total offense (West Virginia had 509) last week, needs to have a better showing a against a North Carolina defense that ranks No. 7 in the country in total defense allowing 174.50 yards per game and is 12th in scoring offense with just 8.0 points per game.

“We thought our tackles were challenged last week?” Holtz said. “They're really going to be challenged this week with the pressure their defensive ends can bring off the perimeter. The front line is so big, strong and athletic. Our offensive line is going to have a heck of a challenge this week.”

East Carolina’s offense has been stagnant in the second halves of both of their games this season. The Pirates have combined for just two points in those games. In the second half against Appalachian State, the Pirates had just 58 yards of total offense. In the second half against West Virginia, they had 66.

Holtz said he’s talked about switching quarterbacks from starter Patrick Pinkney, who is completing 28-of-66 passes (42.4 percent) with two touchdowns and three interceptions, but isn’t ready to throw freshman Josh Jordan into the fire and he doesn’t have the depth at fullback to move Rob Kass, last year’s backup quarterback, back to that position.

The Pirates need Pinkney and the receivers to pick it up especially since the running game will be without leading rusher Dominique Lindsay, who suffered a shoulder injury against West Virginia and is doubtful for this weekend. Also, North Carolina has limited teams to just 1.85 yards per rush.

“I'm excited to have the opportunity to play this game,” Holtz said. “I understand the significance, magnitude and history of this series. Not just on the football field, either. It extends to the way this university has been developed. I know there are a lot of things that makes this a huge rivalry game. I know, and our players know, the importance of this game.

“Many of our players were told they weren't good enough to play at North Carolina. This will be a game that they put a chip on their shoulders for. I'm excited to go play this game.”