East Carolina Pirates (3-2, 1-1 American) vs Tulane Green Wave (4-1, 1-0 American)
Time and Date: 3:30 PM ET, October 8th
Broadcast Network: ESPNU
Location: Yulman Stadium - New Orleans
ESPN FPI: Tulane, 70.3%
Line: Tulane -3*
Point Total: 54*
All-Time Series: East Carolina leads the series against Tulane, 12-6
Last Meeting: ECU 52 Tulane 29 - October 2, 2021
Current Streak: East Carolina, 1
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
After losing to Navy last week, ECU QB Holton Ahlers apologized to his team and the Pirates’ faithful for his performance and promised to play better in their week five matchup against USF. He delivered on his promise and more. Ahlers played the best game of his collegiate career in a dominant victory. In the first half, Ahlers was 20/26 for 352 yards and five TDs and led his team into the locker room up 41-7 at the break.
FIVE is going OFF in Boca right now pic.twitter.com/V6P5W8AYpA— ECU Football (@ECUPiratesFB) October 1, 2022
Even better news for the Pirates is that they found a second star receiver for Ahlers to sling the ball to. While the senior WR Isaiah Winstead is still leading ECU in receiving yards, C.J. Johnson is now on his heels after a breakout performance. Johnson has a unique blend of size and speed at 6’2, 220 lbs. His size allows him to run fade routes and win 50-50 balls. His speed allows him to torch defenders on go routes as he did on his 74-yard TD. Johnson finished with 197 receiving and four TDs on seven receptions.
If there is any cause for concern for Mike Houston, it is the defensive side of the ball. Again, ECU had a massive 34 point lead over USF at the break. However, the final score was 48-28 despite the fact most of the starters on defense remained in the game. Furthermore, USF was the only team in the FBS without a passing touchdown through 4 games. However, their quarterback threw 250 yards and three TDs with no interceptions against the Pirates. ECU should be facing their 2nd best offensive opponent this week against Tulane. It will be interesting to see how the defense holds up after a shaky performance in the second half last weekend.
While the Pirates know exactly who their QB is, it may not matter who throws the ball at Yulman Stadium this Saturday. With their starter Michael Pratt out, Tulane initially turned to their second stringer, Justin Ibieta. Ibieta is a NOLA-native who grew up less than five miles away from Tulane’s campus in Uptown. However, his hometown hero campaign was spoiled on his first drive when he injured his shoulder on a scramble in the red zone. While Green Wave fans undoubtedly wanted to see more of Ibieta, they got a welcomed surprise with the play of their third-string QB, Kai Horton.
While Horton didn’t put up jaw-dropping numbers, he played extremely well in the clutch. First, Horton had to force overtime with three minutes left in the game. He answered the bell by engineering a 75-yard, 11 play drive capped off with a passing touchdown. Then, after Tulane’s defense held Houston to a field goal to begin OT, Horton threw the game-winning touchdown on a beautiful play design by Willie Fritz.
While Fritz expects Pratt to return ahead of ECU, Tulane should be confident that any of their three options at QB can win them games in the AAC. If for some reason Pratt can’t go or is re-injured during the upcoming game, the Green Wave should be able to turn to Ibieta or Horton. Part of the reason Tulane should have so much confidence regardless of playing QB is also their stellar defense.
The Green Wave are top ten in numerous defensive metrics in the FBS. Tulane are only giving up 14.1 points and 259 total yards per game. Furthermore, they are taking even more pressure off of the offense by starting to score. Against Houston, stud sophomore DB Jadon Canady recovered a fumble for a 59-yard scoop and score. This season has been a total 180 for Tulane who were in the bottom quartile in every defensive category in the FBS last campaign.
This game is going to determine a dark horse candidate for an AAC title game appearance. Something has to give as the game will likely come down to whether or not the AAC’s best QB so far can perform against the AAC’s best defense. Ahlers did just put up the best numbers of his career against USF and should be Tulane’s biggest challenge to date. However, Tulane has completely shut down the two best QBs they’ve faced so far even if they were not as accomplished as Ahlers. Tulane will win an extremely tight game due to their defense forcing a key turnover or two at home. Final Score - 28-21 Green Wave.