The two new head coaches in the Big East (Todd Graham and Dana Holgorsen) are familiar to USF's Skip Holtz -- he faced them both at his previous stop in East Carolina. When USF prepares to meet Pittsburgh and West Virginia, we'll look back at some of those games and see what we can glean from them to get ready for the present day.
USF coach Skip Holtz and Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham faced each other three times as head coaches in Conference USA. In the first meeting in 2006, Graham's Rice team nipped Holtz's East Carolina team 18-17 on a late field goal by Clark Fangmeier, which is not a made-up name. The second meeting was in the 2008 Conference USA championship, after Graham had moved on to Tulsa.
This game was very similar to the USF-Notre Dame game a few weeks ago. Statistically, the Golden Hurricane controlled the game. They ran 38 more plays than the Pirates (97-59), doubled them in first downs (28-14) and outgained them 399-278. But like the Bulls did in South Bend, the Pirates made Tulsa snap the ball again, and again, and again, and again. Tulsa only gained 4.1 yards per play, and eventually they started turning the ball over to C-USA's top defense in 2008.
Big plays were another key to the Pirates' upset win. After driving for a touchdown on their first possession, East Carolina stretched their lead to 14-0 when Travis Simmons collected one of David Johnson's five interceptions on the day and ran it back 72 yards for a touchdown. Tulsa scored on their next three drives to turn their deficit into a 17-14 lead, but the Pirates tied it on a Ben Hartman field goal following a Golden Hurricane fumble.
In the third quarter, Johnson was sacked and fumbled. The Pirates recovered, and on the next play Norman Whitley took off for a 69-yard touchdown run to give East Carolina the lead back.
Two more turnovers helped keep Tulsa at bay until the fourth quarter, when Johnson tied the game at 24 on a touchdown pass to Jacob Collums with 9:16 left. Finally, East Carolina's offense did what they had been hoping to do all day -- go on a long, clock-eating drive and keep the dangerous Tulsa offense on the sideline. The Pirates went on a 12-play, 43-yard drive that took over seven minutes off the clock. They called 10 runs and only one pass, and converted a 4th and 1 from their own 37-yard line that could have cost them the game if they hadn't picked up the first down. When the drive finally stalled, Hartman made a 36-yard field goal with 1:43 to play for the winning points.
In all, the Pirates collected seven turnovers and only committed one, on special teams. Patrick Pinkney had a similar stat line as B.J. Daniels did against Notre Dame, going just 10-of-24 for 122 yards and one touchdown. But also like Daniels against the Irish, Pinkney didn't turn the ball over and avoided negative plays or risky throws.
The strategy might be a little different in Thursday's game because the talent gap won't be anywhere near the one Holtz was up against in the 2008 C-USA title game. But pressuring Tino Sunseri and forcing him into mistakes will go a long way towards knocking off the Panthers.