From The Sports Network
By John Agovino, Associate College Football Editor
The East Carolina Pirates will take part in their second consecutive Liberty Bowl when they take on the Arkansas Razorbacks for the first-time ever on the football field this Saturday evening at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis.
The Razorbacks have a long history of participating in bowl games, but unfortunately winning those matchups have been tough for this school. This will be the 37th bowl game for Arkansas, but the team is just 11-22-3 in the postseason, and has lost 12 of its last 14 bowl games, including a 38-7 setback to Missouri in the 2008 Cotton Bowl. This year the Razorbacks opened the season with a 48-10 win over Missouri State, but after that victory the team dropped four of its next six contests. However, after a 30-17 loss to Ole Miss, the Razorbacks rebounded with four consecutive wins, including a 42-21 victory over Mississippi State. Unfortunately the team could not close out its regular season on a high note, as Arkansas fell to LSU, 33-30 in overtime.
As for the Pirates, they could not find their stride out of the gate in 2009, splitting their first six games down the middle. However, after a 28-21 loss to SMU, the Pirates really took off, winning six of their last seven contest, including a thrilling, 38-32 decision over Houston in the Conference-USA title game. East Carolina's bowl history is not as dated as Arkansas', but the Pirates have postseason experience, with a 5-5 mark in their previous 10 bowl games. However, the team has lost three of its last four and that includes a 25-19 setback to Kentucky in last season's Liberty Bowl.
The Razorbacks might not have been one of the top teams in the SEC, but they definitely possessed one of the most dangerous offensive units in the entire nation, as the team produced 37.3 ppg. The ground game is churning out 136 yards per matchup, but the team does not have a main source of production out of the backfield. Michael Smith led the way on the year with 396 yards, while Broderick Green added 392 yards and 11 touchdowns on 4.2 yards per carry. What really made this offense go was the passing attack, which was led by one of the top quarterbacks in the country, Ryan Mallett. Mallett completed 57.2 percent of his throws this season for 3,422 yards, with 29 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. Mallett was outstanding with spreading the ball around this season and used every outlet at his disposal. Greg Childs proved to be extremely valuable, as the wide out hauled in 45 receptions for 862 yards and seven touchdowns. Jarius Wright collected 37 passes for 591 yards and four scores, while Joe Adams also caught seven touchdowns.
The reason why the Razorbacks were unable to keep up with the top teams in their conference was because the defense was simply not good enough. The defense allowed 25.8 ppg throughout the regular season and was unable to stop opponents on the ground or through the air. Arkansas was gashed for 150.1 rushing ypg, and even worse was their performance against the pass, as teams torched this unit for 251.8 ypg and also tossed 21 touchdowns against Arkansas. The defense however, was one of the top teams in the country in forcing turnovers, racking up 34 takeaways on the year. Pressuring the quarterback was also another solid area for this team, with 26 sacks. The Razorbacks also stepped up their effort when it mattered most defensively, as the team held opponents to just 36 percent on third downs and allowed just 17 touchdowns in 39 red zone chances for the opposition. Jerry Franklin led the way for Arkansas on the season with 84 tackles, while Adrian Davis and Jake Bequette both collected 5.5 sacks apiece.
The Pirates were also a dangerous team with the football, but they relied more on their rushing attack, as the team rumbled for 149.6 ypg on 4.1 yards per attempt. 23 of the team's 37 touchdowns came on the ground and those scores helped ECU average a respectable 27.8 ppg. Dominique Lindsay was the main source of production out of the backfield, as the tailback rumbled for 1,029 yards and five scores on 5.0 yards per tote. The passing attack has not been as successful as the ground game, mainly because quarterback Pat Pinkney was slightly inconsistent on the year. Pinkney completed 59.5 percent of his throws on the season, for 2,738 yards and 14 scores against 10 interceptions. Dwayne Harris was clearly the top option for ECU, as the wideout led the team with 79 receptions, 914 yards and six touchdowns. Darryl Freeney was also a solid option for Pinkney and finished the regular season with 42 catches for 624 yards and three scores.
Overall the play by the defensive unit for East Carolina was solid, as the team held the opposition to just 22.1 ppg. The Pirates did a solid job against the run, limiting teams to just 123.3 ypg on 3.7 yards per attempt. However, the secondary showed some chinks in the armor throughout the season and was torched for 262.3 ypg through the air, and also surrendered 23 passing touchdowns. What helped this defense on the season was its ability to make big plays on a consistent basis. East Carolina was one of the top teams in the nation at forcing turnovers, and comes into this game with 33 takeaways. The Pirates also put adequate pressure on opposing quarterbacks, racking up 28 sacks on the year. C.J. Wilson led the way with 5.5 sacks on the year, while Scott Robinson added five sacks. Nick Johnson led the team with 94 tackles on the season, while Van Eskridge racked up 93 stops and a team-best six interceptions.