College Football Preview: East Carolina vs. West Virginia

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 5, 2008

Associated Press
GREENVILLE ó With West Virginia’s speedy offense coming to town, Skip Holtz jokingly asked East Carolina’s groundskeepers to leave the sprinklers on at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and turn the grass field into a mud pit.
That might not be necessary. Tropical Storm Hanna could take care of it for him.
The rain-producing storm system expected to strike the North Carolina coast hours before today’s kickoff might provide the most convenient way for the upset-minded Pirates to neutralize the eighth-ranked Mountaineers (1-0) and their run-heavy spread offense that, under new leadership, is trying to beat teams through the air, too.
“Hopefully, but Pat White and those guys, they’re some good backs,” linebacker Quentin Cotton said. “We’re not banking on the weather. We’re just going to have to come out and limit the mistakes. We know with the rain that we’re going to come after them a little bit, but they’re some great backs. I think they’ll be pretty well-prepared for playing in the rain.”
The teams could face brutal conditions in Greenville, which lies directly in Hanna’s expected path up the Atlantic seaboard. The storm could drop several inches of rain on the area and turn the Mountaineers’ pursuit of an eighth straight victory in the series into a slopfest.
“The snow, the sleet and the rain ó I love to throw it,” West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. “We know where we’re going. They don’t. We know where we’re going, get your feet under you, don’t stride enough, keep your base, make your cuts more precise. … I’ve never bought it where you can’t pass the ball in the rain. If it’s a monsoon and if Hanna goes nuts on us, we’ll be throwing a bucket around I guess.”
Of course, West Virginia has more to worry about than the weather.
Under Holtz, East Carolina’s program has made significant strides, bouncing back from years of laughable play under the previous regime to move to the brink of its first Top 25 appearance since 1999. The Pirates (1-0) are coming off a 27-22 victory over then-No. 17 Virginia Tech in which they returned a blocked punt for the winning score in the final minutes.
Not that they’re still dwelling on it.
“We’re smart, man,” Cotton said. “We know that we’re 1-0. We didn’t win a conference championship by beating Tech. We didn’t win a national championship. Beating V-Tech didn’t get us to a bowl game.”
No, but following it with a third straight upset, including last year’s Hawaii Bowl victory against Boise State, would give the Pirates the kind of postseason resume that could lead to one of the high-profile BCS bowls ó if they finish unbeaten, that is.
But first, East Carolina’s veteran defense must figure out a way to keep the Mountaineers’ offense under control.
After holding West Virginia to fewer than 200 yards rushing in both 2005 and ’06 ó the only team to do it twice during that span ó the Pirates last year were exploited with efficiency, allowing nearly 600 total yards in a 48-7 rout in Morgantown.
Plus, Stewart’s Mountaineers are trying to be significantly more balanced than they were under former coach Rich Rodriguez. New offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen’s misdirection offense worked to perfection last week; against a Villanova defense committed to stopping the run, White threw a career-high five touchdown passes in a 48-21 win.
“We threw the ball more than people expected of us, but that’s because we had to,” Stewart said.