By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
The NCAA post-season kicked off Dec. 19 , with 34 games being played in a three week span.
The Sportmeisters are previewing each of the games that lie ahead, and providing our predictions as well. Let’s get to it!
Liberty Bowl, January 2nd, 5:30 PM, Memphis, TN
East Carolina (9-4) vs. Arkansas (7-5)
About East Carolina
ECU made some heads turn with its stellar play at the beginning of last season, but that wasn’t the case in 2009. It lost two of its first three games before winning four out of six to pull themselves to 5-4. The Pirates then reeled off four-straight wins, including the C-USA Championship over Houston, to finish at 9-4.
ECU provides a balanced attack that ranks somewhere in the middle of the FBS. Senior RB Dominique Lindsay rushed for 1,029 yards and five touchdowns, making him the first ECU back to clear 1,000 yards since Chris Johnson.
Senior QB Patrick Pinkney does make some mistakes (10 interceptions), but still managed to throw for 2,738 yards and 14 touchdowns. Junior WR Dwayne Harris is his top target, reeling in 79 balls for 914 yards and six touchdowns. He also managed to score five rushing touchdowns on the season. Pinkney benefited from an offensive line that only gave up .85 sacks a game (eighth in NCAA FBS). Over the last seven ECU games, Pinkney was sacked once.
Defensively, ECU is an enigma. It gives up a lot of yards (385.62 per game, 76th in NCAA FBS), but opponents only score 22.08 points a game (38th in NCAA FBS). A big reason for that is turnovers.
The Pirates recorded 33 turnovers, finishing with a plus-14 margin. Going back to 2006, ECU has had 30-plus turnovers yearly, including one a game since 2007. Senior DB Van Eskridge is the biggest ball-hawker, pulling six interceptions to go with 93 tackles. Senior DE C.J. Wilson likes to hang out in the backfield, accumulating 56 tackles (10.5 for loss), and 5.5 sacks. Senior LB Nick Johnson contributed 93 tackles (7.5 for loss) and two interceptions. ECU gets pushed back to the limit defensively, but usually can pull in an interception and kill a drive.
Arkansas had a tough start to its season, losing two of its first three, with both losses coming to foes in the Top 25. The Razorbacks went 2-2 over their next four games, putting them at 3-4 at the halfway mark of the season. They reeled off four straight wins, all by double digits, before a season-ending loss against LSU finished them at 7-5.
The Razorbacks boast one of the most potent offenses in th nation, ranking 14th in total yards with 439.33 yards a game, led by their 10th-ranked passing attack, which puts up 303.33 yards a game. The passing offense directly leads to their eighth-ranked scoring offense, averaging 37.33 points a game.
Sophomore QB Ryan Mallet directed the high-flying Razorbacks, putting up 3,422 yards and 29 touchdowns. His top target is Sophomore WR Greg Childs, who has 45 catches for 862 yards and seven touchdowns. WRs Jarius Wright and Joe Adams combined for 1144 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.
For all that good on offense, Arkansas struggles defensively. Its biggest offender is its pass defense, which gives up 251.75 yards a game (104th out of 119 teams). It’s a big reason the Razorback defense gives up 401.83 yards a game (90th in NCAA FBS). The team does know how to force turnovers, finishing the 2009 campaign with a plus-13 margin. Sophomore LB Jerry Franklin is the leader of the squad, piling up 84 tackles (5 for loss), 1.5 sacks, and a fumble return for a touchdown. Senior DL Adrian Davis contributed 46 tackles (9.5 for loss) and 5.5 sacks. When playing against Arkansas, expect a high-scoring affair, on both sides of the ball.
ECU is 5-5 in bowl games. This will be its fourth straight bowl appearance, and second straight Liberty Bowl—ECU lost to Kentucky last season 25-19.
Arkansas is 11-22-3 in its bowl history. It has lost two in a row, most recently the 2007 Cotton Bowl to Missouri 38-7.
Expect a high-scoring affair in this one. ECU is used to high-powered offenses, most recently facing Houston and Case Keenum, but Mallet has a lot more weapons at his disposal.
It starts with his 6-7 frame, allowing him to keep in the pocket longer, giving his receivers more time to get open. Look for ECU to lay off the blitzing, keeping seven in coverage, and expect its front four, led by Wilson, to get some pressure on Mallet. If Mallet can get rattled, which is what the front four did to Keenum, look for the secondary to get some late Christmas gifts in the form of interceptions.
ECU has an average offense, but it is facing a decidedly horrific defense, especially against the pass. Pinkney has a lot of interceptions (14), so he needs to settle down in the face of pressure. Pinkney has a tendency to pat the ball before throwing, so if the secondary can get a read on this, his interception number could go up before the day is out.
Mallet has the tools and the technique to lead Arkansas over an ECU squad that went 0-3 against BCS Conferences. Arkansas 33-28.