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2007 East Carolina Pirates

Collegefootballnews.com
Posted Dec 31, 2007


2007 East Carolina Pirates Season, Game Recaps, Scores and Reviews

2007 East Carolina Pirates

Recap: Even after surprising Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl, East Carolina couldn’t help but wonder what might have been had it not gagged in November.  Winners of five of six games at the time, and seemingly in cruise control in the East Division, the Pirates inexplicably lost to 1-8 Marshall, the death knell in their quest to remain ahead of UCF.  Still, it was a building block season for third-year coach Skip Holtz, who got a monster season from do-everything RB Chris Johnson.           

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Chris Johnson

Defensive Player of the Year: S Van Eskridge

Biggest Surprise: Johnson.  Hey, everyone knew Johnson was a blazer, but in three years in Greenville, he’d never put together a full season.  The same kid that hadn’t rushed for more than 684 yards in a season exploded for 1,423 yards on the ground and a nation’s-best 227 all-purpose yards per game.

Biggest Disappointment: The Nov. 10 loss to Marshall came out of nowhere, and was East Carolina’s ugliest performance of the season.  At the time, the Herd was skidding and the Pirates were soaring, but none of that mattered in a 26-7 defeat that would haunt ECU for the rest of the month.     

Looking Ahead: Although Johnson’s graduation leaves a gaping void on offense, the Pirates return enough letterwinners on both sides of the ball to be considered one of the early favorites to win the East in 2008.  More will be expected of QBs Rob Kass and Patrick Pinkney, who had their moments in 2007, but lacked consistency.

- 2007 ECU Preview 
-
2006 ECU Season

2007 Preview
CFN Prediction:
6-6
2007 Record:
8-5

Sept. 1 at Virginia Tech L 17-7
Sept. 8 North Carolina W 34-21
Sept. 15
Southern Miss L 28-21
Sept. 22 at West Virginia L 48-7
Sept. 29
at Houston W 37-35
Oct. 6 UCF W 52-38
Oct. 13 at UTEP W 45-42 OT
Oct. 20 NC State L 34-20
Oct. 27
UAB W 41-6
Nov. 3 at Memphis W 56-40
Nov. 10 at Marshall L 26-7
Nov. 24
Tulane W 35-12
Hawaii Bowl
Dec. 23 Boise State W 41-38

Dec. 23
2007 Hawaii Bowl
East Carolina 41 ... Boise State 38

East Carolina avoided a huge collapse with a 44-yard drive in six plays finishing up with a 34-yard Ben Hartman field goal with no time left on the clock. Pirate RB Chris Johnson set the NCAA record for all-purpose yards in a bowl while scoring from 68 yards out on a first quarter run and caught an 18-yard scoring pass in the second. Down 38-14, and without star RB Ian Johnson, who was knocked out with an ankle injury, Boise State came roaring back with 24 straight points helped by a 25-yard Jeremy Avery touchdown catch, a one-yard D.J. Harper scoring run, and on a 47-yard fumble return for a touchdown from Marty Tadman with 1:25 to play after Chris Johnson put it on the turf. Dominique Lindsay scored on two three-yard touchdown runs in the second quarter. ECU outgained Boise State 322 yards to 98 on the ground.
Offensive Player of the Game: East Carolina RB Chris Johnson ran 28 times for 223 yards and a touchdown, caught three passes for 32 yards and a score, and returned six kickoffs for 153 yards. He set the NCAA record for all-purpose yards in a bowl with 408 yards
Defensive Player of the Game: Boise State S Marty Tadman made ten tackles and recovered a fumble for a 47-yard touchdown
Stat Leaders: Boise State - Passing: Taylor Tharp, 30-44, 270 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Jeremy Avery, 10-69. Receiving: Austin Pettis, 9-89
East Carolina - Passing: Pat Pinkney, 12-19, 118 yds, 1 TD
Rushing:
Chris Johnson, 28-223, 1 TD. Receiving: Jamar Bryant, 6-78
Thoughts & Notes ... Did Boise State start to believe its own hype? After everyone picking the Broncos to walk past East Carolina, the Hawaii Bowl turned out to be a shocker early on as the Pirates and Chris Johnson came out roaring. This appeared to be a fully focused ECU team, but once Boise State settled down, it showed a little of the magic expected with the fantastic comeback. In the end, this wasn't the same Bronco defense as it was in past years, getting shoved around way too easily up front. ... The loss of Ian Johnson to an ankle problem isn't an excuse for Boise's loss, but with the offense already reeling after not having burgeoning star receiver Jeremy Childs, who was out for violating team rules, the team struggled to find a go-to playmaker. Taylor Tharp started to play well late, but he's not the type of quarterback who could carry the offense by himself. ... Lost in the heroics of a last-second field goal for the ECU win, and the wild fourth quarter, was a tremendous day from both punters. ECU's Matt Dodge put it in the end zone four times, but he showed great blast averaging 43.1 yards on seven kicks. Boise State's Kyle Brotzman averaged 42.2 yards on four boots.

Nov. 24
East Carolina 35 ... Tulane 12
Chris Johnson ran for touchdowns from five and seven yards out, and took a pass 33 yards for a touchdown, as East Carolina ran past Tulane. Matt Forte added to his 2,000-yard season with a 120-yard day with a three-yard scoring run late in the fourth, but it wasn't nearly enough to overcome Johnson's three scores and three touchdown passes from Rob Kass.
Player of the game: East Carolina RB Chris Johnson ran 27 times for 155 yards and two touchdowns, and caught four passes for 85 yards and a score.
Stat Leaders: Tulane - Passing: Anthony Scelfo, 12-20, 133 yds
Rushing: Matt Forte, 25-120, 1 TD. Receiving: Jeremy Williams, 6-72
East Carolina - Passing: Rob Kass, 12-18, 177 yds, 3 TD
Rushing:
Chris Johnson, 27-155, 2 TD. Receiving: Chris Johnson, 4-85, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... ECU came up with a nice, efficient day in the relatively easy win over Tulane to secure a bowl slot. Coming off the bad loss to Marshall two weeks ago, the Pirates needed a good game, and it got one thanks to Chris Johnson. While he might not be a first-team all-star in a league with Matt Forte and Kevin Smith, he proved once again that he's one of the nation's best all-around backs. The defense wasn't a rock, but it was good enough for three quarters to keep the Green Wave out of the end zone.

Nov. 10
Marshall 26 ... East Carolina 7
East Carolina was stuffed for just 259 yards and managed only a four-yard Chris Johnson touchdown run in the third quarter as Marshall took a 16-0 lead highlighted by a 23-yard E.J. Wynn touchdown pass and a 75-yard Bernard Morris scoring run. Emmanuel Spann caught a 17-yard touchdown pass to put the game was in the fourth quarter, and Anthony Binswanger iced it with his second field goal coming with just under six minutes left. Morris became the first Marshall quarterback to run for 1,000 yards in a season.
Player of the game: Marshall QB Bernard Morris completed 24 of 32 passes for 238 yards two touchdowns, and ran 11 times for 126 yards and a touchdown
Stat Leaders: East Carolina - Passing: Patrick Pinkney, 13-21, 109 yds
Rushing: Chris Johnson, 12-72, 1 TD. Receiving: Dwayne Harris, 4-18
Marshall - Passing: Bernard Morris, 24-32, 238 yds, 2 TD
Rushing:
Bernard Morris, 11-126, 1 TD. Receiving: E.J. Wynn, 6-51, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Pirates were in a position to still possibly win the East, and then it came up with a clunker the week after rolling offensively against Memphis. Chris Johnson was fine but for the third straight week, there wasn't nearly enough from the passing game. Patrick Pinkney isn't being asked to make any big plays deep, but he might need to push it down the field a little more in a possible shootout with Tulane next week.

Nov. 3
East Carolina 56 ... Memphis 40
East Carolina ran for 491 yards helped by 301 yards from Chris Johnson along with four touchdowns. Jonson tore off scoring runs from 16, 44, and 70 yards, and then put the game out of reach with a 50-yard dash late in the fourth. The Memphis defense couldn't slow down the Pirates, but the offense exploded with Martin Hankins and the passing game bombing away for 416 yards with four touchdown passes. Down 21-6, the Tigers got back in the game with two Hankins touchdown throws only to see ECU pull away with a 28-point third quarter. The ECU passing game also got involved as Pat Pinkney threw two touchdown passes in the third. In all, the two teams combined for 1,134 yards of total offense.
Player of the game: East Carolina RB Chris Johnson ran 20 times for 301 yards and four touchdowns and caught two passes for 12 yards..
Stat Leaders: East Carolina - Passing: Patrick Pinkney, 8-16, 105 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Chris Johnson, 20-301, 4 TD. Receiving: Dwayne Harris, 4-26
Memphis - Passing: Martin Hankins, 34-60, 416 yds, 4 TD, 2 INT
Rushing:
Miguel Barnes, 5-42. Receiving: Duke Calhoun, 8-107, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The offense has quickly become unstoppable at just the right time. Chris Johnson was brilliant with big run after big run, while Patrick Pinkney did enough to keep the chains moving and provide some semblance of balance. The offense always pulled ahead after Memphis was able to get close. There were ten penalties and nothing from the pass defense, but it was still a big win. With two of the league's lightweights, Marshall and Tulane, ahead, ECU just has to get the offense rolling again for two more games and it's on to the Conference USA title game.

Oct. 27
East Carolina 41 ... UAB 6
East Carolina got up right away with a 35-yard John Williams touchdown run, and answered a UAB field goal with a field goal of its own and a three-yard Dominique Lindsay touchdown run. The game opened up in the third quarter with the Pirates scoring 21 unanswered points with Chris Johnson tearing off a 20-yard scoring run and Pat Pinkney throwing two touchdown passes, highlighted by a 52-yard play to Jamar Bryant. UAB only managed two Swayze Waters field goals.
Player of the game: East Carolina WR Jamar Bryant caught six passes for 114 yards and a touchdown
Stat Leaders: UAB - Passing: Sam Hunt, 12-29, 94 yds
Rushing: Brandon Thornton, 12-67. Receiving: Joseph Webb, 5-41
East Carolina - Passing: Patrick Pinkney, 6-7, 159 yds, 2 TD
Rushing:
Matt Chris Johnson, 15-79, 1 TD. Receiving: Jamar Bryant, 6-114, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... ECU bounced back nicely from the loss to NC State with a balanced, explosive performance against UAB with a little help from several sources. With 216 rushing yards and 255 through the air, ECU had little trouble moving the ball on a not-that-bad defense. Now the attack has to remain consistent in two road games at Memphis and Marshall before closing out against Tulane. There's no reason ECU should expect anything less than three more wins to close out.

Oct. 20
NC State 34 ... East Carolina 20
NC State got up 21-0 on two Daniel Evans touchdown passes and a blocked punt return for a score from J.C. Neal, and then the Pirate roared back with a 20-point run starting with a one-yard Chris Johnson touchdown run, and an 18-yard Jamar Bryant scoring catch with 23 seconds to play in the first half. NC State fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the Pirates got a 47-yard Ben Hartman field goal with no time left on the clock. NC State withstood the storm and scored the final 13 points of the game highlighted by a 15-yard Jamelle Eugene scoring grab.
Player of the game: NC State QB Daniel Evans completed 29 of 44 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns with an interception
Stat Leaders: East Carolina - Passing: Rob Kass, 28-50, 254 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Chris Johnson, 19-63, 1 TD. Receiving: Phillip Henry, 7-64
NC State - Passing: Daniel Evans, 29-44, 335 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Jamelle Eugene, 22-63. Receiving: Donald Bowens, 5-93
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... It's not like ECU didn't have its chances to come back and beat NC State. It got within one, and then couldn't seem to get back on track in the second half to get over the hump. After a thrilling win over UTEP, this was going to be the statement week when it beat a lousy Wolfpack team as part of a big run. It didn't happen, mainly because the secondary didn't show up yet again. Fortunately, UAB, Memphis, Marshall and Tulane close things out. Anything less than 8-4 will have to be seen as a disappointment.

Oct. 13
East Carolina 45 ... UTEP 42 OT
UTEP got a 45--yard field goal from Jose Martinez in overtime, but ECU QB Rob Kass plunged in for a one-yard score to pull off a wild win. The Miners appeared to have the game won, as Marcus Thomas tore off a 31-yard touchdown run with 34 seconds to play, but the Pirates put it into overtime on a 34-yard Juwon Crowell touchdown catch with no time left on the clock. The two teams traded scores throughout, with Thomas starting things off with a 42-yard scoring catch, and ECU taking an early lead with a 50-yard Van Eskridge fumble recovery for a score. In the third quarter, ECU came up with a few haymakers, getting a 57-yard Dwayne Harris touchdown run and an 80-yard Jamar Bryant touchdown catch to go up ten. But UTEP would respond with the third of Martinez's four field goals and a 17-yard Jeff Moturi touchdown grab early in the fourth before the fireworks at the end. UTEP cranked out 589 yards of total offense, while ECU came up with 507.
Player of the game: In a losing cause, UTEP QB Trevor Vittatoe completed 38 of 55 passes for 409 yards and three touchdowns with an interception
Stat Leaders: East Carolina - Passing: Rob Kass, 18-32, 219 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Chris Johnson, 23-126. Receiving: Jamar Bryant, 7-133, 1 TD
UTEP - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 38-55, 409 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Marcus Thomas, 22-103, 1 TD. Receiving: Jeff Moturi, 12-113, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... If this wasn't a charmed season before, it is now. With the way Rob Kass led the team to a late touchdown to force overtime against UTEP, and with the scoring run to win it, this is a hot team that has control of the Conference USA race with all the lightweights ahead. Now the tough part is over. If ECU is as good as it's been playing, at least offensively, it should be able to roll through UAB, Memphis, Marshall and Tulane without breathing hard. However, getting more from the secondary would be nice.

Oct. 6
East Carolina 52 ... UCF 38
East Carolina cranked out a 28-point second half run with two of Rob Kass's three touchdown passes, Chris Johnson's fourth touchdown of the day, and a six-yard Kass run. UCF appeared to be on its way to a big day when Curtis Francis took the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, and the offense rolled, outgaining ECU 495 yards to 370, but it turned the ball over five times to keep the Pirates rolling. The Pirate returned the favor, with Johnson taking the opening kickoff of the second half for a score as part of a 38-3 run that was finally halted with a three-yard Kyle Israel touchdown run.
Player of the game: East Carolina RB Chris Johnson ran for 89 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, caught five passes for 89 yards and another score, and handled four kickoffs for 194 yards and a touchdown.
Stat Leaders: UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 28-45, 308 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Rushing: Kevin Smith, 29-147, 1 TD. Receiving: Kamar Aiken, 8-117, 1 TD
East Carolina - Passing: Rob Kass, 12-23, 201 yds, 3 TDs
Rushing:
Chris Johnson, 23-89, 2 TDs. Receiving: Chris Johnson, 5-89, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... While the ECU defense continues to have major problems, it was able to force five UCF turnovers, and the offense took advantage of every shot in the great second half run to pull away and win in a walk. Rob Kass got hot, Chris Johnson was unstoppable in all phases, and now, ECU is in a great spot to be in the Conference USA title hunt. Now comes the big showdown, needing to beat UTEP in El Paso to firmly establish itself as the league's main player.

Sept. 29
East Carolina 37 ... Houston 35
Down two, Houston had two late chances to win, but T.J. Lawrence missed a 37-yard field goal with just under two minutes to play, and missed from 38 with three seconds left. ECU got a huge day from Chris Johnson, who ran for a 14-yard touchdown in the second quarter and a 43-yard dash in the third. Houston stayed in it with the home run, starting off the scoring with a 33-yard Donnie Avery touchdown catch, his first of two touchdown grabs, and answering a late ECU field goal with a 100-yard Donnie Avery kickoff return for a score. ECU's C.J. Wilson came up with 2.5 sacks, and Quentin Cotton made 14 tackles and recovered a fumble.
Player of the game: East Carolina RB Chris Johnson ran 24 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns, and caught four passes for 24 yards
Stat Leaders: East Carolina - Passing: Rob Kass, 6-12, 110 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Chris Johnson, 24-147, 2 TD. Receiving: Chris Johnson, 4-24
Houston - Passing: Blake Joseph, 24-29, 250 yds, 2 TD
Rushing:
Anthony Alridge, 21-89, 1 TD. Receiving: Donnie Avery, 9-189, 2 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... ECU's defense struggled with the Houston speed, the passing game didn't do much, with the quarterbacks combining to hit 11 of 26 passes, but a win is a win. Now the Pirates are in the Conference USA race with two of the big boys, Southern Miss and Houston, off the schedule. Now comes the real test against UCF. To pull this off, more will be needed out of the passing game, and the run defense will have to stiffen up and not allow the big home-run.

Sept. 22
West Virginia 48 ... East Carolina 7
West Virginia rolled to 48 straight points before ECU finally got on the board with a two-yard Chris Johnson touchdown run in the final minute. Pat White ran for a 13-yard score and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Darius Reynaud, and Steve Slaton ran for a one-yard score, on the way to a 27-0 halftime lead. White and Reynaud hooked up again in the third quarter to a 14-yard touchdown, and then White ran for a four-yard score. East Carolina managed just 160 yards of total offense.
Player of the game ... West Virginia QB Pat White completed 18 of 20 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns, and ran nine times for 44 yards and two scores
Stat Leaders: East Carolina - Passing: Pat Pinkney, 7-14, 43 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: Chris Johnson, 14-75, 1 TD  Receiving: Chris Johnson, 14-75, 1 TD
West Virginia - Passing: Patrick White, 18-20, 181 yds, 2 TD
Rushing:
Steve Slaton, 18-108, 1 TD  Receiving: Darius Reynaud, 5-54, 2 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... With a still-young, developing team, there will be days when nothing works. Against West Virginia, nothing worked, especially on offense. While that was expected, the problem was the play of the defensive line, that was supposed to be one of the team's strengths, and it didn't come through early to slow down, or dictate the action, against the Mountaineer offense. The hope has to be for QB Pat Pinkney to find something out of this game to use as a learning experience for Conference USA play ahead.

Sept. 15
Southern Miss 28 ... East Carolina 21
Jeremy Young ran for two touchdowns from one yard out in the fourth quarter, with the second one coming with 32 seconds to play, to give Southern Miss the tough road win. The Golden Eagles jumped out to a 14-0 halftime lead on a 28-yard touchdown catch from Shaun Nelson and a two-yard Damion Fletcher run, but East Carolina adjusted and controlled the third quarter with 21 points. Pat Pinkney threw two touchdown passes and Dominique Lindsay ran for a one-yard score, but the Southern Miss defense stiffened in the fourth quarter.
Player of the game: Southern Miss QB Jeremy Young completed 18 of 28 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown with an interception, and ran 11 times for 20 yards and two scores.
Stat Leaders: East Carolina - Passing: Patrick Pinkney, 20-33, 203 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Chris Johnson, 13-45. Receiving: Dwayne Harris, 4-55, 1 TD
Southern Miss - Passing: Jeremy Young, 18-28, 237 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Damion Fletcher, 27-111, 1 TD. Receiving: Chris Johnson 6-61

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... ECU stood toe-to-toe with Southern Miss in a tough game, but the lost because the offense couldn't crank out long drives in the fourth quarter. The defense didn't appear to be gassed, but the line started to get beaten on just enough for USM to keep moving the ball. The running game has to start doing more. QB Pat Pinkney is growing into the type of playmaker to revolve the offense around, but the attack is becoming too one-dimensional, and that won't work against West Virginia next week.

Sept. 8
East Carolina 34 ... North Carolina 31
ECU PK Ben Hartman missed three field goals, but he nailed a 39-yard shot with no time left on the clock to beat North Carolina. The two teams were in a shootout for three quarters, with Patrick Pinkney throwing three touchdown passes for East Carolina and UNC getting a huge day from Brandon Tate, but Hartman's field goal were the only points in the fourth. Pinkney connected with Chris Johnson on touchdown passes from 78 and 24 yards out, and Johnson added a four-yard touchdown run, while Tate caught touchdown passes from 39 and 51 yards and returned a punt 58 yards for a score.
Player of the game: East Carolina QB Patrick Pinkney went 31-of-41 for 406 yards and three touchdowns, and ran ten times for 22 yards.
Stat Leaders: North Carolina
- Passing: T.J. Yates, 20-32, 344 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Rushing: Johnny White, 9-43. Receiving: Hakeem Nicks, 6-77, 1 TD
East Carolina
- Passing: Patrick Pinkney, 31-41, 406 yds, 3 TDs
Rushing: Patrick Pinkney, 10-22. Receiving: Jamar Bryant, 6-93
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... And ECU has a quarterback. Any concerns about the team's quarterback controversy have to be eased after a brilliant day from Patrick Pinkney, who not only showed a deep arm, but had great mobility to buy time and make things happen. Chris Johnson didn't run well, but he was explosive and productive as a receiver. The offensive line isn't in place to pound the ball, and there will be more shootouts to come, so it'll be up to Pinkney for the team's immediate future. The offense will sink or swim with him.

Sept. 1
Virginia Tech 17 ... East Carolina 7
In one of the most emotionally charged games in college football history, Virginia Tech needed a while before finally putting East Carolina away. Victor Harris picked off a pass for a touchdown late in the first half for a 10-7 Hokie lead, and Sam Wheeler provided the breathing room with a 21-yard touchdown catch. East Carolina managed a two-yard Chris Johnson touchdown run in the first half for its only points.
Player of the game ... Virginia Tech TE Sam Wheeler caught seven passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.
Stat Leaders: East Carolina - Passing: Patrick Pinkney, 14-25, 115 yds
Rushing: Dominique Lindsay, 10-50 Receiving: Phillip Henry, 4-30
Virginia Tech - Passing: Sean Glennon, 22-33, 245 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Branden Ore, 23-70  Receiving: Sam Wheeler, 7-81, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... ECU got the early pick of Virginia Tech's Sean Glennon, and the crowd was instantly taken out of the emotional game. Give the Pirates credit for maintaining their cool, for the most part, despite being the team America most wanted to see lose this week, and now that this is over, they can get on to the rest of the year. The offense might have struggled, but everyone will have problems against the Hokie D. The ECU defensive line was fantastic and is going to be the difference in at least three games this year.

Sept. 1 – at Virginia Tech
Offense: Can Tech win a national title with a mediocre offense? It was 99th in the nation in total offense, but it did a great job of taking advantage of all the breaks generated by the defense. Eight starters return, led by ACC Player of the Year candidate Branden Ore at running back, but he needs the line to be healthy for a full season, and better. The passing game has good pieces, but it has to be far more consistent considering there are four talented senior receivers returning. Quarterback Sean Glennon had a good off-season, and now it has to translate into better production.
Defense:
For two years in a row, Tech has led the nation in total defense, and last season, was number one in scoring defense allowing 11 points per game. There's no reason the D can't be even better with eight starters returning led by the 1-2 linebacking punch of Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi. Corner Brandon Flowers is emerging as one of the best in the nation, "Macho" Harris is a good defender on the other side, and the line is loaded with size, quickness, depth and experience. As good as things were, and will be, it's not like the D played a who's who of offensive machines, so the overall numbers might be a tad bit overrated, but make no mistake about it; this is a special defense.

Sept. 8 - North Carolina
Offense: The offense only cranked out 293 yards and 18 points per game with fits of wild inconsistency. Expect a bit more of the same with a young team still trying to figure out who the starters are going to be, but the overall production should be better. Step one is to determine who the quarterback will be to handle the passing game that'll run three and four wide sets. T.J. Yates was the star of spring ball, but he'll have to hold off star freshman Mike Paulus. There are plenty of good, inexperienced running backs to work with, and Hakeem Nicks is a potential star number one receiver. However, there aren't any certainties in the depth chart quite yet. The line will be serviceable, but nothing special.
Defense:
It might take a year to turn things around after a disastrous 2006, but the young talent is there to get really, really excited. The defensive line has a slew of great prospects to work with, while the back seven has athleticism and quickness by design with a smallish linebacking corps. The return of Trimaine Goddard at safety will be a big help for the secondary, while the hopeful emergence of more pass rushing help for end Hilee Taylor should help the coaching staff implement it's attacking, aggressive style.


Sept. 15 - Southern Miss
Offense: While it’s become fashionable for programs across the country to switch to some fancy derivative of the spread offense, Southern Miss is content to pound the ball on the ground, control the clock and let its defense win games.  Sure, the Eagles prefer balance, but in Hattiesburg, the run continues to set up the pass.  Last year’s league-leading rusher, sophomore Damion Fletcher, is back for an encore, and this time, he brought friends.  Southern Miss is deep in the backfield, which will take pressure off versatile, yet erratic, senior quarterback Jeremy Young.  His favorite target will again be tight end Shawn Nelson, a future pro with All-America potential.  For a change, there are restless moments about an offensive line that’s replacing three starters, two of which were First Team All-Conference USA in 2006.
Defense: The “Nasty Bunch” defense that’s become the trademark of Southern Miss football under Jeff Bower should be one of the nation’s top ranked units in 2007.  It’s fast and experienced, and if Bower gets his way, about to become as physical as his vintage teams of the late 1990s.  The Eagles return nine starters, including the entire front seven and five players that earned all-Conference USA recognition in 2006.  Good luck moving the ball on this veteran group.  If there’s a weak link on defense it’s in the secondary, where two new starting corners will be broken in.  One way to help rookies Eddie Willingham and Michael McGee will be to get more pressure on the quarterback than last year, when USM was No. 81 in the country in sacks.

Sept. 22 – at West Virginia
Offense: Unlike most schools that run the spread offense, West Virginia aims to open lanes for its prolific ground game, rarely putting the ball in the air more than 20 times a game.  The Mountaineers want the ball in the hands of its two junior Heisman candidates, quarterback Patrick White and running back Steve Slaton.  Along with receiver Darius Reynaud, they form the fastest offensive trio in America, and are threats for six with even a hint of daylight.  White is an underrated passer that rarely misses his target, but needs more help from a receiving corps that’s suspect after Reynaud.  Few schools rebuild on the offensive line better than West Virginia, but how will the unit react without its long-time quarterback Dan Mozes and long-time coach Rick Trickett?
Defense: Lost in all the yards the Mountaineer offense gained in 2006 was all the yards the defense allowed.  West Virginia allowed 35 or more points three times last fall and was torched through the air repeatedly over the second half of the year.  Worse, this once relentless defense had trouble getting to the quarterback and looked a step slow.  Rich Rodriguez is banking on a few tweaks to the back eight and an influx of faster players as the solutions in the team’s 3-3-5 stack formation.  Led by playmaking senior safety Eric Wicks, the secondary has a glut of really talented athletes that need to gel into a cohesive unit.

Sept. 29 – at Houston

Offense: The graduation of four-year starting quarterback Kevin Kolb signals a new era in Houston, but it doesn’t mean the Cougars will be inept on offense in 2007.  There’s too much explosiveness and veteran leadership for that to happen.  Last year’s backup, sophomore Blake Joseph, is expected to get the nod at quarterback.  He’s got a huge arm and about as much fear as he does experience.  Surrounding Joseph will be a half-dozen players that earned all-league honors last year, headed by senior running back Anthony Alridge, one of the nation’s fastest players.
Defense: Defensive coordinator Alan Weddell’s goal is to bring pressure from every angle and invent ways to get as much speed as possible on the field.  With that in mind, he’ll be installing some elements of a 4-2-5 package in 2007 to periodically get an athletic rover into the mix.  The personnel is deep and reliable, especially with a front seven that includes dynamic junior end Phillip Hunt and a couple of all-league linebackers in junior Cody Lubojasky and senior Trent Allen.  If senior safety Rocky Schwartz is all the way back from knee surgery and the corners hold up, the pieces are in place for this to be Conference USA’s stingiest defense.

Oct. 6 - UCF
Offense: Quarterback Steven Moffett and premier receiver Mike Walker have graduated, so logic dictates the Knights will lean on junior Kevin Smith for a while.  He’s as good as any back in the league when he’s healthy, and has the luxury of four starting linemen returning.  Don’t expect any drop-off from Moffett to senior Kyle Israel.  In fact, the veteran of 16 games and five starts was so sharp down the stretch in 2006, some around the program feel he could be even better running the pro-style offense if a couple of the young receivers emerge.
Defense: Nothing typified UCF’s collapse in 2006 more than the shoddy play of the defense, which finished 106th nationally and allowed almost 30 points a game.  The secondary was a particular mess, prompting George O’Leary to open up the competition at every spot, despite the return of four starters.  The coach had a chance to take the wrappers off some of his young kids late last year, which will benefit players, such as tackles Torrell Johnson and Travis Timmons and end Jared Kirksey, this season.  More than anything else, the Knights are looking to improve their team speed after looking a step slow throughout the 2006 season.

Oct. 13 – at UTEP
Offense: The offense continued to be one-sided finishing fifth in the nation in passing and 116th in rushing, and now things will make a shift back the other way, although not necessarily for the positive. A battle for the quarterback job will continue until the fall, but the running game should be set with Marcus Thomas ready to break out as on of Conference USA's best backs. However, he needs room to move behind a line that has to be night-and-day better than last year when it struggled to pound away.
Defense:
The Miners melted down over the second half of last season and needs to be far more productive with nine starters returning. Don't expect miracles, but unlike previous years, the D should be better as the season goes on. The defense was miserable last season despite getting a consistent pass rush from the front seven. Now the whole line needs to find replacements while the linebacking corps has to hope for Jeremy Jones to be healthy after a knee injury. The secondary should be a strength after a rough year with safeties Quintin Demps and Braxton Amy potential all-stars, while Josh Ferguson is a solid corner.

Oct. 20 - NC State
Offense: This won't be a bombs away attack under Dana Bible, but it could be with a big, fast, experienced receiving corps that should be able to spread the field. The trio of running backs, Toney Baker, Andre Brown and Jamelle Eugene, should be a major plus, but the line has to be far better and needs to replace the starting tackles. It'll be a three-man race for the starting quarterback job between Daniel Evans, Nebraska transfer Harrison Beck, and Justin Burke, with the one of them needing to be able to move the offense consistently, something that wasn't done this spring. This will be a running offense that will eventually grow into a 50/50 balance.
Defense: This will be a solid defense, but it won't be spectacular. It could be fantastic in 2008 when all the promising young prospects are ready to shine, but for now, this will be a good, sound D that should be far more consistent than last year. Demario Pressley and Martrel Brown lead a strong line that should be the strength, while three senior linebackers will keep the mistakes to a minimum. The secondary has to come up with more big plays after helping the Pack pick off just seven passes.

Oct. 27 - UAB
Offense: From the staff and the system to the personnel, the offense will be getting a complete facelift in 2007.  Nothing will look the same which isn’t such a bad thing considering how poorly the unit executed last season.  New coordinator Kim Helton is installing a pro-style attack that sprinkles in some no-huddle and option calls, but realizes he’ll have to tailor the first-year playbook to the talent he inherits.  All eyes in August will be on the continuing quarterback battle between senior Sam Hunt and sophomore Joseph Webb, a potential savior once he gets up to speed.  Whether or not the offense climbs out of the Conference USA cellar will depend heavily on the maturation of a rebuilt line that’s replacing four senior starters. 
Defense: While the back seven of the defense figures to be a strength in 2007, you might not know it unless the defensive line can effectively replace three key starters from last year.  Senior end Brandon Jeffries will be productive, but after him, UAB is feverishly searching for answers to prevent opposing passers from having all day to throw.  Junior college transfer Antonio Forbes is being counted on to deliver right out of the gate at tackle.  The linebackers have a budding star in junior Joe Henderson and senior free safety Will Dunbar is one of just a handful of Blazer defenders with all-league potential.

Nov. 3 – at Memphis
Offense: The offense had its moments, but it was consistently mediocre and not nearly explosive enough. The ground game struggled behind a bad offensive line, and now the hope fill be for Joseph Doss to get more room behind a more experienced front five. The passing attack should shine, led by veteran quarterback Martin Hankins and the usual array of tall, athletic Tiger receivers. Duke Calhoun is a rising star touchdown maker, while Earnest Williams is a solid target to keep the chains moving.
Defense: A disaster last year, especially against the pass and at getting into the backfield, the defense is undergoing an almost complete overhaul with several newcomers taking over for established veterans. The 4-3 needs to start making more big plays behind the line, and the hope will be for a steady rotation of players to keep everyone fresh and be more productive. The key will be the play of corners LaKeitharun Ford and Michael Grandberry, who need to beef up a secondary that allowed 231 yards per game and finished 116th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

Nov. 10 – at Marshall
Offense: Not since Byron Leftwich graduated has Marshall been Marshall on offense.  That should begin to change this fall provided erratic senior quarterback Bernard Morris can make the most of a receiving corps that’s brimming with young game-breakers.  All-conference back Ahmad Bradshaw, a 1,500-yard rusher in 2006, left early for the NFL, leaving Chubb Small to shoulder the load.  If he can’t handle the promotion, look for one of three blue-chip freshmen to rise up and accept an expanded role.  While the offensive line has pending issues at tackle, Doug Legursky is a beast at center that could parlay big efforts early versus Miami and West Virginia into post-season awards.
Defense: Disgusted with the play of last year’s defense, head coach Mark Snyder changed course, hiring veteran Steve Dunlap as the coordinator.  While last year’s team sat back, and often paid for the conservative approach, the 2007 edition will attack wherever and whenever it makes sense.  The chief attacker will be junior end Albert McClellan, a sack machine that’ll be in the mix for just about every individual award given to defensive players.  At linebacker, junior Josh Johnson is good enough to consider early entry into the 2008 NFL Draft once the season concludes.  Dunlap’s biggest concerns in his first season on the job surround a pedestrian group of tackles and a beatable secondary that allowed way too many long gainers last season.

Nov. 24 - Tulane
Offense: New head coach Bob Toledo would like to get vertical get the passing game moving, but it's not going to happen at the expense of the ground attack. With a good back in Matt Forte to work with, the Green Wave will try to run the ball to create some semblance of balance, but the offensive line might not be in place to do it. Scott Elliott is the odds-on favorite to win the starting quarterback job in a four-man race, and he has some decent young receivers to work with.
Defense: Tulane hasn't played consistent defense in a few years, and it needs to count on experience, especially up front, to change things around. Eight starters return led by senior tackles Frank Morton and Avery Williams. The secondary needs to be far better after allowing over 250 passing yards a game, but that could be a bit of an issue with two new starting corners being broken in. The new coaching staff will use a variety of formations and schemes to try to get more production, and while the overall defense should be better, there will still be times when it'll get bombed on.


 


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