MORGANTOWN -- Most college football observers believed East Carolina would be 3-0 heading into its game with West Virginia on Saturday.
Mountaineer coach Rich Rodriguez was one of them.
Instead, the Pirates are 1-2 and in danger of digging a big hole they might not be able to climb out of.
The Pirates' problems have been obvious.
"Turnovers," said Rodriguez. "They had four turnovers and five turnovers in their first two games. That will get you beat most every time."
East Carolina returned more then half its starters on both sides of the ball, but lost quarterback David Garrard (now with the Jacksonville Jaguars) and running back Leonard Henry (Miami Dolphins) to graduation.
Still, with talented Paul Troth ready to step in at quarterback, the Pirates were expected to finish high in Conference USA once again.
But Troth's inexperience -- he attempted just four passes last season -- was glaringly evident in the team's first two games, both losses, against ACC weaklings Duke (23-16) and Wake Forest (27-22).
Troth was just 13 of 31 for 130 yards and three interceptions in the opener against Duke. He improved against Wake Forest, hitting 21 of 41 passes for 273 yards and two scores but threw four costly interceptions.
"Right now, every snap is precious for Paul," veteran ECU coach Steve Logan said. "He's going to be a good quarterback at some point this year.
"He had a good week of practice in our off week and the future is bright."
Injuries have also plagued the Pirates as they've been unable to get their best set of receivers on the field at the same time. But that may change this week.
Senior Richard Alston, who missed the Wake Forest game, was back against Tulane and led the team with three receptions.
"We script some things for Richard Alston," Logan, the school's all-time winningest coach, said. "I would like him to touch the ball at least six-to-eight times a game.
"That's something we'll try to do this week."
Two players, center Doug White and safety Travis Heath, are expected to miss this Saturday's game.
While the offense has struggled with consistency, the defense has played well for the most part.
"Defensively, we're better than we were at any time last season," Logan said. "We've put a lot of work into this defense."
The Pirates, who run a 3-4 set, are 42nd nationally in total defense, giving up 327 yards per game. But ECU has recorded just one interception and has yet to force a fumble.
"Defensively, they remind me a lot of Cincinnati," Rodriguez said. "Basically, they have two big guys in the middle and a bunch of athletes surrounding them."
Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org