College Football: ECU’s Holtz faces dad’s old team
East Carolina coach Skip Holtz is ready to face his father’s old team.
Holtz and the Pirates will take on Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl on Jan. 2 in Memphis, Tenn., and the matchup is bringing back quite a few memories. Lou Holtz was Arkansas’ coach from 1977-83, and Skip went to high school in Fayetteville, where the Razorbacks play.
“I remember sitting in these press conferences admiring my father as he sat in that chair, kind of talking in front of that Arkansas helmet,” Skip Holtz said Thursday. “We’re really excited not only to have the opportunity to be here representing Conference USA, but to have the opportunity to play a great program like Arkansas.”
Lou Holtz coached some of Arkansas’ most successful teams, taking the Razorbacks to the Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Sugar Bowl his first three years on the job. In his first season at the helm, Arkansas routed Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl 31-6 in what is considered one of the program’s greatest wins.
“From seventh grade all the way through high school, I grew up in Fayetteville,” Skip Holtz said. “I can remember going back to the Orange Bowl when they had the big win over Oklahoma 31-6 ó and playing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Some great childhood memories from growing up in Fayetteville around that program.”
Holtz’s team, which includes defensive lineman Scotty Robinson of Salisbury, will have its work cut out for it against these Razorbacks. Arkansas had won four straight games before an overtime loss to LSU to end the regular season. Quarterback Ryan Mallett leads the Southeastern Conference in passing.
“Ryan has a great arm, he can certainly make all the throws that you need to make,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. “He has a great love for the game, and he’s a very good student of the game. He spends a lot of time in the film room. He really wants to understand what we’re coaching.”
East Carolina can throw the ball as well. Patrick Pinkney passed for 262 yards with no turnovers in a win over Houston last weekend for the Conference USA championship. The Pirates won that game 38-32.
They also received plenty of practice defending the pass. Houston’s Case Keenum completed 56 of 75 passes for 527 yards and five touchdowns, but he also threw three interceptions.
“We held them to 550 yards passing, so I feel pretty good,” Holtz joked. “Case Keenum’s a great quarterback. He threw the ball 75 times in that game. Coach Petrino’s already promised me he’s not going to throw it that many times.”
Maybe not, but Petrino is doing his best to make sure his team is pumped up for this game. Arkansas’ last two bowl appearances ó before Petrino took over the team ó were uninspiring losses to Wisconsin in the 2007 Capital One Bowl and Missouri in the 2008 Cotton Bowl.
“How you play in the bowl, how you finish, sets the tone for next season,” said Petrino, in his second season at Arkansas. “We have a lot of young players that now have the opportunity to get extra practice in.”
Arkansas should enjoy a decent home-field advantage, with the game taking place just across the Mississippi River in Tennessee. That said, the Razorbacks are 0-3 in the Liberty Bowl. Their most recent appearance was a loss to Georgia in 1987.
“Our fans are excited about it,” Petrino said. “We expect a great crowd, and we’re really looking forward to the game.”