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Justin McMillan’s career day gives Tulane important win over ECU

The Green Wave passing game picked the right time to come alive.

Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

For weeks we’ve been harping on Tulane’s passing woes. On Saturday they finally must have listened.

Former LSU transfer Justin McMillan shined in his third start as the Wave’s signal caller, throwing for 372 yards and three touchdowns on only 12 connections. His receivers helped him put up an astounding 31 yard per-completion average. Darnell Mooney finally revived his 2018 campaign with 217 yards and two touchdowns after a quiet couple of weeks. Fellow wide out Terren Encalade only hauled in one pass, however it was a 73-yard score.

East Carolina v Tulane
Justin McMillan attempts a pass against East Carolina on Saturday.
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The productivity through the air was needed because Tulane’s usually-dominant ground game went dormant against the Pirates. None of the Green Wave rushers found the end zone or even broke 100 yards. Darius Bradwell led the team with 77. Despite the slow day running the ball, though, the team did enough to snag a significant 24-18 win over the Pirates and stay alive in the bowl chase.

For East Carolina, Holton Ahlers had himself a decent day passing as he tossed for 360 yards and two touchdowns, both to star receiver Trevon Brown. Brown also filled up the stat box (yet again) with 161 yards on eight catches.

But, like Tulane, the Pirates rushing attack was stagnant. The team combined for a lowly 90 yards and no scores. In the end they were unable to overcome the smothering Green Wave defense and suffered their seventh loss on the year. The defeat drops ECU to 0-6 in conference play and 2-7 overall. They are now officially eliminated from bowl eligibility.

Tulane continues to push toward potential postseason ball and the Pirates look to finish a lackluster season on a strong note. Both teams can use is this game as a springboard in doing so.

The Good: We’ve already touched on it but Tulane’s areal attack experience the rejuvenation it needed at this point in the season. McMillan’s performance was a thing of beauty for a team who, until Saturday, hadn’t had a touchdown pass since early October. He all but sealed himself the starting position for the remainder of the year. As of late, it’s been the ground game that was carrying the load for the offense, so this was a nice change of pace. Still, it makes us wonder how good this club could be if both facets of the offense could click at once.

The Pirates really have something special in their freshman quarterback Ahlers. His numbers speak for themselves but his dual-threat ability is really where ECU should be excited. Tulane’s defense is by no means a pushover, especially against the run, and yet Ahlers finished as the team’s leading ball carrier with 67 yards. He did toss one pick but that’s forgivable against a stingy Green Wave secondary. Now with a season essentially under his belt, Ahlers seems poised to be one of ECU’s greatest assets in years to come. Remember his name.

East Carolina v Tulane
ECU’s Holton Ahlers looks to one of his receivers against Tulane.
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Bad: The Wave’s conversion ratio on critical downs simply needs to be better. On third down the team was a dismal 3-for-18 (16.7%) while on fourth they failed on both of their attempts. Those figures clearly weren’t a back-breaker against the Pirates but you can bet if we see punter Ryan Wright next Thursday in Houston as much as we did in this game, it’ll be a different story.

East Carolina had plenty of opportunities at the potential game-winning drive in the fourth frame and couldn’t do anything. This was, unfortunately, par for the coarse for what they’ve been doing this season. While some of the Pirates defeats have been blowouts, they’ve certainly been right there in others and have simply failed to deliver the knockout punch. Maybe that changes next week against UConn though.

The Ugly: I wont go so far as to call Tulane’s rushing performance here “ugly” but it certainly could be (and needs to be) a lot better. The last time they didn’t have at least one rushing touchdown in a game was the season opener against Wake Forest and if ECU was able to bottle up the Green Wave backs that well, it should concern Wave fans on what Housotn and Navy might be able to do. Still, Willie Fritz teams live and die by the run and the option attack so don’t be shocked if this is just a blip.

The Pirates are in the midst of watching another season slip further and further away. After two consecutive 3-9 seasons and now one that hasn’t even seen a third victory, fans in Greenville have to be wondering if Scottie Montgomery is the answer. Interesting times for ECU could lie ahead.

Final Thoughts: As Tulane gears up for the Cougars the Big Easy has got to be excited. Three weeks ago this upcoming bout looked like it could be the proverbial nail in the coffin on the 2018 campaign but now it could be the coronation into the postseason. Yes, Houston is very tough but this is a Green Wave team that has taken down both Memphis and South Florida (in stunning fashion mind you). Am I saying that for sure we’ll see another massive upset Thursday night? Of course not. Just don’t be shocked if we do. McMillan and the offense look good and the defense can hold its own. So maybe... just maybe.

The Pirates, on the other hand, are looking to salvage whatever postivies they can from their remaining games. Next week is the last home game against the AAC’s doormat UConn Huskies so there could definitely be some happy faces in that one but as far as Cincinnati and NC State are concerned? Yikes. I’m sure you ECU fans are sick of hearing this but there’s always next year.