Pinkney's play could be key to ECU-UNC game

Sep 18, 2009 - 10:00 PM By AARON BEARD AP Sports Writer

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.(AP) -- East Carolina figured it had a sure thing in quarterback Patrick Pinkney. Yet as ECU prepares for a trip to No. 24 North Carolina, he has come to embody the Pirates' early inconsistency.

The sixth-year senior has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and has had trouble with his accuracy. It's no coincidence that the Pirates' offense hasn't scored a point after halftime, a fact that puts Pinkney in the spotlight against the Tar Heels (2-0) and their aggressive defense Saturday.

"The plays we've needed to make, we didn't make," Pinkney said. "We had a missed throw, a missed block or a dropped catch. It's not just pressure on me. Everybody's got to put pressure on themselves to execute on every play. That's how you win championships: everybody doing their job."

Pinkney would know. He directed the Pirates (1-1) to upsets of Virginia Tech and West Virginia on the way to last year's Conference USA championship. Two years ago in Greenville, he threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns in his first start to hand Butch Davis his first loss as North Carolina's coach.

Yet that player hasn't shown up in 2009, even if the Pirates are trying to deflect the blame solely from Pinkney.

"Patrick can be sharper and crisper and he can throw the ball a little bit better than he has," East Carolina coach Skip Holtz said. "It's not just Patrick. There's a lot of things we have to evaluate to turn and get the passing game straight. It's not just tighten that little screw and away we go."

Pinkney has completed 42 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Last season, he completed 61 percent with 13 TDs and seven picks.

In the opener, the Pirates ran all over Appalachian State before the Mountaineers adjusted at halftime and forced Pinkney to make plays. He didn't respond and the offense managed just 53 yards and four first downs in the second half. That left the defense on the field too long and nearly helped the Mountaineers stage a stunning comeback from a 24-0 deficit before falling 29-24.

Last week, Pinkney threw for 175 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but was sacked four times in the 35-20 loss at West Virginia.

In those two games, the Pirates are averaging 69 yards and five first downs while being outscored 31-2 in the second half.

Those numbers should have the Tar Heels' defense eager to take the field. It was expected to be the team's strength with nine starters back and hasn't disappointed, racking up 19 tackles for losses and allowing an average of 175 yards in the first two games.

But North Carolina safety Deunta Williams is preparing for the old Pinkney to show up in Chapel Hill.

"Tiger Woods says it best, that he always thinks his opponent is going to make the shot," Williams said. "So we've got to go out and think he's going to give us his best shot."

Davis said his coaching staff has looked at game film from the '07 meeting and several games last year instead of just relying on the past two games.

"You see him making the same throws," Davis said. "You see him being athletic and extending plays. He's a frightening quarterback just because of his athleticism."

The Tar Heel offense finds itself in similar situation. The offensive line didn't open many holes against Connecticut last weekend and the receivers are unproven, making quarterback T.J. Yates' job more difficult.

Making things tougher, the Tar Heels will be without starting senior center Lowell Dyer (shoulder) and tight end Zack Pianalto (foot).

"We are kind of who we are," Davis said. "We're not going to recreate the wheel in three days of practice. I think it would be somewhat detrimental to our entire offensive football team to totally deviate and go in a different direction just because some guys got injured."

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