Start Time: 12 P.M. EST, Saturday, October 1, 2016.
Location: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville, North Carolina. The home of the best mid-field logo in college sports.
TV/Streaming: CBS Sports Network; CBSSports.com/live
Radio: 96.9 FM/740 AM (Orlando) or a whole bunch of choices in North Carolina. Also Sirius (channel 132) and XM (channel 201).
Betting Line: ECU opened at -5.5, which has now shrunk to either -3 or -3.5 depending where you look.
Records: Both teams stand at 2-2 overall, and this is the first conference game for both.
All-Time Series: Pirates lead the all-time series 10-4. It’s been more even in the recent past with the Knights winning three of the last five.
UCF Outlook: Talk of Saturday’s game in Greenville was necessarily going to have to begin with a reminder of what happened the last time the Knights played at ECU:
Of course, that was the Knights last win before losing every game until they shutout South Carolina State in this year’s opener. Last year, the Pirates manhandled the Knights in Orlando to the tune of 44-7.
UCF is now riding high after decimating hapless FIU 53-14. The Knights dominated throughout, holding FIU to only 189 yards of offense while racking up 501 of their own. Big plays were definitely a factor, as freshman running back Adrian Killins added both a 61 yard touchdown run and a 60 yard catch. He is the team’s leading rusher, going a lopsided 16 carries for 241 yards on the season so far. Killins may have more opportunities this week in light of the injury to fellow freshman RB Jawon Hamilton, who was leading UCF in carries going into FIU.
Look for UCF to continue to lean on the run against an ECU defense that is not so good at stopping it. The Pirates have yielded an average 161.8 yards per game on the ground, ranking an unimpressive 73rd in the FBS.
Last week saw the Pirates’ six game streak of beating ACC teams end with a 54-17 hammering by Virginia Tech. ECU was hampered by numerous special teams mistakes – a punt returned for a touchdown, a blocked field goal, a blocked punt, and a big tackle for a loss on an attempted rugby punt.
There’s little doubt that the Pirate’s offense can be great. They’ve shown much promise in Head Coach Scottie Montgomery’s first year. ECU’s offense averages over 524 yards per game (most in the country) but the Pirates have failed to convert much of that success into points. ECU averages only 29.2 points per game, putting them ninth in the AAC. ECU has struggled in the red zone in its last two games: 2-of-6 with only one touchdown (and three turnovers) against South Carolina and 1-of-3 for a field goal against Virginia Tech.
But Senior QB Philip Nelson ought to have opportunities against UCF’s secondary. The Knights’ secondary has performed well against weaker opponents but was utterly exposed by Michigan and suffered some blown coverages against Maryland. On the downside for Pirates fans, at least some of that had to do with UCF loading the box, a choice which seems less necessary against ECU.
This is a game that could easily go either way. The Vegas odds are fittingly close and the advanced stats give the Pirates a 52% win probability. Who knows: maybe the game will be as tight as 2014 . . .