I wasn't sure what to expect from tonight's East Carolina game. This offense has been otherworldly all season, but chips began to show in the armor, and then they absolutely imploded against a stout defense like Temple.
No worries this week right? Cincinnati's defense has been a horrible train wreck on several occasions this season, and if the Pirates are capable of anything, it's winning an offensive track meet. Right?
The Bearcats tried so incredibly hard to lose this game. They raced out to a 38-20 lead at one point, and then their offense went cold. I'll let Auburn coach Gene Chizik tell you why:
Not sure why Chizik was in the booth - nor do I want to know considering that little Freudian slip. But Gunner Kiel was amazeballs terrible tonight. The Bearcats were minus-3 in the turnover department tonight, pretty much entirely due to Kiel. His is not a pretty game of quarterback, and he had a hard enough time with downfield throws.
So when the Bearcats went into protect-the-lead mode up 45-40 with a few minutes left, what do they do? Of course.
Because clearly, the right choice is not only to go for it on fourth and two from your own 33 (you've been conservative until now, why get ballsy), the right choice is to run the read option.
Of course ECU would drive down and have first and goal. But then Shane Carden was almost intercepted on first and goal. Then he was almost intercepted again on second and goal. Finally, on sixth and goal (a new set of downs from a fourth-and-goal pass interference) Carden jogged in for the score.
And yet, Cinci got the ball back and ECU decided this was a good time to play a soft zone. Understandable, perhaps, given how erratic Kiel was all night (see: 3 INTs), but just hoping you don't give up enough yardage is't really the best solution. And of course, Andrew Gantz crushed a 47-yard field goal through the uprights with 15 seconds left to give the Bearcats a narrow 48-46 vict... oh what's that? Right. We weren't done yet.
ECU had nine seconds to do something from their 22 yard line. The solution, of course, was the Cal-Stanford play, which went about as you would expect, except for one little detail.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is freshman wide reciever Quay Johnson saying, "oh well, screw it." Which feels like a microcosm for ECU's season.
I think it tells you what you need to know that when Justin Hardy caught the touchdown that cut the score to 38-34, his 15th of the game, he was four catches shy of setting the new FBS record - he then proceeded to catch zero passes on one target the rest of the game. How not to win: don't give your best player the ball when the game is on the line.
This blows the door wide open for my prediction of Memphis as AAC champions to actually come true. If Memphis wins out, then Central Florida losing any of their remaining games give the Tigers a split of the title with Cincinnati; if the Bearcats also lose to either UConn or Houston, then Memphis gets the title outright. Who knew?