Last weekend, it was made official that the Arkansas Razorbacks will be playing in the Liberty Bowl and Hog fans got to catch a sneak peak of their future opponent as East Carolina and Houston fought it out to see who would advance to face the Hogs in Memphis.
It was not a surprise that the Hogs were headed for the Liberty Bowl, as we all read into the hints long before it was official, but the surprise to many was that ECU beat Houston to earn the showdown with Arkansas in Memphis.
Hog fans and college football fans everywhere, were salivating at the possible match-up of Arkansas and Houston duking it out in what would have certainly been a shootout. Both Arkansas and Houston rank a top the nation in total offense and passing. The prospect of a match-up between two such potent offenses, had instant classic written all over it.
There was one little problem; the Pirates did not get the memo and they knocked Houston down to size. East Carolina settled it on the field that they are the better team as they showed a bend-but-don't-break desire in their win over Houston in the Conference USA Championship game.
For all you Hog fans that were disappointed to hear Arkansas will play ECU and not Houston, or that did not catch the Conference USA Championship game, let me bring you up to speed;ECU is good.
The Pirates are now the Conference USA Champions two years in a row. They have very good talent and have depth as well.
There will be much more analysis to come over the weeks leading up to the Liberty Bowl, but there are three things all Hog fans need to know about the East Carolina Pirates up front.
First, the Pirates are extremely well coached. As the Razorbacks watched film, they all have commented on the way ECU executes and plays according to their game plan at a high level. The Razorbacks will likely be favored, but a lack of respect for the Pirates will get the Hogs chopped down in Memphis. The Hogs must bring their A game.
Skip Holtz, the son of Lou Holtz, has a coaching pedigree in his veins. He has turned ECU into a consistent winner capable of winning big games and championships within their league. The Pirates are well coached on both offense and defense. They are a veteran team that will gut it out and play to their strengths just as Skip Holtz instructs them to do.
The second fact all Hogs need to know about the Pirates is they are balanced, but they are a run-first team.
The Pirates on offense average 150 yards rushing and 218 yards passing, which is a deceiving statistic. They do not light up the scoreboard, but they are lead by a veteran QB in Patrick Pinkney who has thrown for 2739 yards and 14 touchdowns. But it is not Pinkney that makes the ECU offense tick like he did a year ago.
No, it is the player standing next to Pinkney in the backfield in 1,000-yard rusher Dominique Lindsay that makes the Pirates' offense click. The passing game goes as the run game goes. Without Lindsay earlier in the year against North Carolina, ECU was unable to get things going offensively.
Lindsay is a senior, as is Pinkney, who has waited his turn and had a great year. At 5'10" and 210 lbs, Lindsay is a reliable back that will not amaze you with flashiness or dazzle. What he will do, is pick up tough yards and remain consistent. He accumulated his 1,000 yard season with only four 100 yard games and missed two games to injury in the early in the season.
Lindsay also figures into the passing game. Once again his stats are not out of this world, but he made a catch in every game he played in this season.
However, Lindsay is not alone in the backfield. ECU has six players who have rushed for a touchdown of 20 yards or longer. The Razorback defense will have to stop the run first in order to keep the spread attack of ECU in check.
The Pirate wide-outs are led by Dwayne Harris. Harris has 79 receptions for 915 yards on the season. ECU also has two other wide-outs that have over 300 yards receiving each for the season in Darryl Freeney and Alex Taylor. These talented wide-outs can cause havoc in the secondary if the Hogs are unable to keep the Pirates running game in check.
The third key thing to know about the Pirates is that they are a defensive team.
While the Razorbacks have won games solely with offense in 2009, the Pirates have won games during Skip Holtzs' entire tenure with defense. The team defense ranks 75th in the nation, but that does not reflect a true picture of what the ECU defense is about. ECU ranks second in their conference in defense—a conference that is made up of prolific offenses and high-scoring games.
The Conference USA Championship Game against Houston paints a perfect picture. The Pirates gave up 557 total yards to Houston, but only 30 of those yards where rushing. The yards also did not equal points for the Cougars as they were held to 32 points in the 38-32 loss. The Pirates forced four turnovers by executing and playing to their game-plan.
The ECU defense is the pride of many and most ECU fans you talk to. They have some big talented players that make plays on the ball and can pressure the QB. However, the Hogs have the advantage of having faced four of the top 25 defenses in the nation.
So the Hogs should be able to execute, but if they come out sloppy or not with their A game, ECU will make them pay.
These are the three things all Hog fans need to know about the ECU Pirates. There are many more things to know about the Pirates and those will be coming over the next few days and weeks leading up to the Liberty Bowl.
For now, Hog fans chew on this information and get to know East Carolina a little, because they are a good team and will make a good opponent come Jan. 2 in Memphis.
Continue to visit the Arkansas Razorback Football page for updated news and information leading up to the Liberty Bowl showdown with the East Carolina Pirates.