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WVU, East Carolina look to continue winning ways

by Greg Talkington

SPORTS WRITER

MORGANTOWN -- A pair of teams coming off wins they hope jump-started their seasons will hook up at Mountaineer Field Saturday when West Virginia (2-1) plays host to East Carolina (1-2).

Kickoff for the matchup is set for 12:10 p.m., with the game being televised by ESPN Regional (WBOY Channel 12 locally) as part of its Big East Game of the Week package.

The Mountaineers are coming off an impressive victory at Cincinnati two weeks ago, a game they dominated thoroughly until the final minutes. East Carolina, after a pair of disappointing losses to Duke (23-16) and Wake Forest (27-22) to start the season, came back to beat Conference USA foe Tulane, 24-20, the same day.

West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez believes the Pirates are every bit as good as Cincinnati.

"They basically beat themselves those first two games," Rodriguez said. "They had nine turnovers in those games, and it's hard to win games when you have that many turnovers.

"But they have excellent skill players, a solid and physical offensive line and a very athletic defense that coach (Steve) Logan believes is much better than they've had the past couple of seasons."

One reason for the Pirates' early-season struggles has been the erratic play of sophomore quarterback Paul Troth (6-foot-5, 233 pounds), who threw seven interceptions in the two losses.

But he played turnover-free football against Tulane.

For the season, Troth has completed 42-of-90 passes for 495 yards and three touchdowns.

He's joined in the backfield by running backs Art Brown (5-9, 200) and Marvin Townes (6-0, 198). Brown leads the Pirates with 309 yards (4.5 ypc) and four scores. He's also the leading receiver with 11 catches for 59 yards.

The receiving corps consists of split end and ex-quarterback Richard Alston (6-0, 214), flanker Torey Morris (6-0, 183), flex end Tutu Moye (6-3, 223) and slot back Terrance Copper (6-0, 211).

Morris has seven receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown while Alston's backup, Richard Hourigan (6-0, 187), shows six catches for 56 yards and a score. Copper has been the team's deep threat with five catches for 108 yards.

Alston, who missed the Wake Forest game due to illness, shows four catches for 44 yards.

Leading the way up front is All-American candidate Brian Rimpf. The 6-6, 314-pound junior, who performed well against Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney last season from his tackle slot, is a Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy candidate.

Joining him along the line are guards Charlie Dempsey (6-3, 291) and Brian Fox (6-2, 284), center Hagen Mason (6-0, 308) and tackle Phoenix Evans (6-4, 330).

They'll go against a West Virginia front six that has improved steadily during the first three games.

Heading up the unit is the team's leading tackler, linebacker Grant Wiley (32 tackles). He's joined by outside linebacker James Davis and middle linebacker Ben Collins. Backups Scott Gyorko, Adam Lehnortt and Leandre Washington have all played well in reserve roles.

On the front line, middle guard David Upchurch continues to lead the charge. He's flanked by ends Jason Davis and Tim Love.

The secondary consists of safeties Jahmile Addae, Jermaine Thaxton and Angel Estrada and cornerbacks Brian King and Lance Frazier. Adam Jones and Arthur Harrison will likely see time at the safety slots, while Lew Daniels will rotate in at both corner positions.

The East Carolina defense has played reasonably well in its first three games, giving up just 327 yards per game.

Leading the unit is freshman inside linebacker Chris Moore (6-0, 217).

Moore leads the team in tackles (40), tackles for loss (4-19) and sacks (2.5-15).

Joining him in the four-linebacker alignment are inside linebacker Josh Chilson (5-10, 220) and outside linebackers Christshawn Gilliam (5-11, 222) and John Williamson (6-2, 230).

Up front, massive middle guard Damane Duckett (6-7, 300) makes for tough going in the middle. Flanking him are tackles Ja'Warren Blair (6-6, 271) and Ronald Pou (6-1, 282).

Senior free safety Kelly Hardy (6-0, 193) leads the secondary. He's second on the team with 29 tackles and has recorded ECU's lone interception. Antwan Adams (6-0, 194) is the strong safety with Donald Whitehead (5-10, 185) and Jerome Steward (5-9, 180) on the corners.

They'll go against a WVU offense that ranks third in the nation in rushing (282 ypg) and third in total offense (494 ypg).

Leading the offense are tailback Avon Cobourne and quarterback Rasheed Marshall.

"Marshall is the typical spread quarterback," ECU coach Steve Logan said. "He throws a nice ball and nobody's been able to tackle him.

"That's a big concern for our defense."

Marshall has completed 47 of 82 passes for 571 yards and four touchdowns without and interception. He's also second on the team in rushing with 162 yards (4.2 ypc) and three touchdowns.

Cobourne leads the strong rushing attack with 378 yards (5.6 ypc) and five touchdowns.

Joining them in the backfield is fullback Mo Fofana.

Sophomore Miquelle Henderson has emerged as Marshall's favorite target. Thus far, Henderson has caught 15 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown.

Joining him in the wide receiver corps are Phil Braxton, Mike Page and Dee Alston. Derrick Smith, Aaron Neal and Travis Garvin provide steady depth.

At tight end, Josh Bailey has moved into the starting role, but will still split time with Ryan Thomas and Tory Johnson.

The interior line is led by senior tackle Lance Nimmo. Tim Brown mans the other tackle slot with Zack Dillow the center. Jeff Berk and Ken Sandor are the guards.

Kicker Todd James could split time punting with Mark Fazzolari, as Rodriguez has been displeased with Fazzolari's low punts.

East Carolina features Jarad Preston, who has averaged 44 yards on 17 punts thus far. Senior Kevin Miller has made three-of-four field goals, including a 50-yarder.

Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at gtalkington@exponent-telegram.com