I don’t think anyone would have believed you if, before the 2013 season began, you said that East Carolina-Tulane would be one of the most pivotal games of the Conference USA slate. But it is, as the 4-2 Green Wave hosts the 4-1 Pirates in a battle of teams atop their respective divisions. That ECU is there is no surprise. Tulane? That’s a different story.
Tulane Coach Curtis Johnson said ECU is one of the measuring sticks of Conference USA.
I think this team and then Tulsa are the two programs that you look at and you say, ‘Golly, these are the teams that you kind of look on as the benchmark of this conference.’ Those are the two teams that you have to look to.
Johnson also mentioned the need to stop the run to have any chance of beating the Pirates, and that might have gotten a little easier, as ECU running back Vintavious Cooper is doubtful for the game with concussion-related symptoms. Chris Hairston came in for Cooper and gained 94 yards in a win over Middle Tennessee. ECU Coach Ruffin McNeill said it was nice to see the reserve running backs excel.
It’s good to see the kids step up. I think you attribute that to recruitment and getting kids in here who want to do it the Pirate way, from offseason conditioning to doing things off the field the right way. We demand a lot of them. On the field, when they have that responsibility tossed at them, they gain your trust. There’s two parts of gaining trust: trust and the verification of trust. Has he done everything we’ve asked him to do? Check. Does he work hard in practice? Check. We tell our kids to always be prepared.
The ECU passing game could take a small hit, too, as receivers Danny Webster and Quataye Smyre have been suspended indefinitely for team rule violations.
Now while Johnson considered Tulsa a C-USA measuring stick, the Golden Hurricane has been on the short end of the stick surprisingly often this season. Tulsa dropped to 1-4 with an overtime loss to Rice, its third straight setback this year. The Hurricane has a chance at a bounce-back win when it visits UTEP on Saturday, which would go far in easing the frustrations in the Tulsa locker room. But Tulsa Coach Bill Blankenship said that frustration hasn’t hurt the team’s morale.
I’d be lying if to say frustration hasn’t grown, but it’s been an internalized frustration. This group has done a fabulous job – there are no fingers that have been pointed. There’s just enough to go around for all of us to share that we’re just frustrated. This is a program that knows how to win. Losing is something we’re not used to and we don’t want to get used to it. Frustration comes from that. I’m okay with measured frustration. If you get okay with coming up on the short end of the scoreboard then you’re going to do it a lot.