Start Time: 4:00 P.M. ET, Saturday, Oct. 3
Location: Gerald J. Ford Stadium, Dallas, Texas
TV: ESPN News
Records: East Carolina 2-2, SMU 1-3. East Carolina leads the overall series 3-2.
Live Stats: here.
Betting Line: East Carolina -5.5. Over/Under: 67.
East Carolina Outlook: The Pirates are coming off of an upset win over Virginia Tech that completely threw their offensive philosophy on its head. The Pirates have been an Air Raid offense that throws the ball nearly all the time. Due to rain, ECU switched quarterbacks and realized that with James Summers, they can run the football. With Blake Kemp, they are basically tied down to a pass happy offense. Since that game, the Pirates have decided to try a two quarterback system that is supposed to bring out the good of both quarterbacks.
The biggest beneficiary of the offensive change is Chris Hairston (60/210/4TD). The senior running back should be able to find more space to run the football with defenses forced to dedicate time to both types of offenses. Expect more explosion from a running game that already has an IsoPPP that is #34 nationally. Receiver Isaiah Jones (32/397/2TD) and tight end Bryce Williams (19/182/3TD) may see a slight drop in targets, but only due to more carries by the running game. Overall, the Pirates are averaging nearly 400 total yards, and will soon find out if these changes are for the good.
Defense has been a mess for ECU with the front seven unable to keep offenses off schedule. Offenses are successful on 46.0% of all plays, 49.2% when rushing, 40.0% when passing. The Pirates did better versus Virginia Tech’s run game, but have been unable to stop strong running games in good weather this season. It will be an interesting matchup as SMU is rushing for 220.5 yards per game. ECU has a good secondary that is giving up just under 200 yards per game in the air.
Players to look out for on the ECU defense include: Zeek Bigger (34 tkl, 1 tfl), Jordan Williams (34 tkl, 3 tfl, 2 sacks), and Josh Hawkins (15 tkl, 1 INT).
SMU Outlook: The Mustangs are a steadily improving offense under the new coaching staff, but are not where they want to be quite yet. Led by quarterback Matt Davis (61/458/4TD), the running game has been a nice surprise. Xavier Jones (55/239/2TD) and Braeden West (35/181/0TD) have stepped up well in the run game. Overall the Mustangs are rushing for 220.5 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry.
Passing the ball has been much more of an adventure with Davis (69-109/933/6TD) on the run quite a bit. Courtland Sutton (17/399/5TD), Ryheem Malone (11/137/0TD), and Xavier Jones (11/65/0TD) are combining to be targeted for for 52.8% of all passing attempts by Davis. Among receivers with 6+ targets, only Jones has a catch rate of over 75%. Overall, the Mustangs are passing for 233.2 yards per game.
When you give up 43.3 points per game, it is very clear that the defense is struggling. Offenses are successful on 51.9% of all offensive plays, 56.9% when rushing, 46.0% when passing. The Mustangs #91 or worse in six of the seven rushing advanced statistics, capped by a pitiful 13.3% stuff rate, over 5% below the national average. The defense is giving up 279.5 yards per game on the ground. Versus the pass, SMU may actually be even worse. S&P+, success rate, and IsoPPP all have the Mustangs ranked #104 or worse. The defense is giving up 323.5 yards per game and 10.0 yards per pass attempt on the season. Overall, SMU is giving up 603.0 yards per game this season.
Prediction: Despite a 1-3 record, SMU has looked like a better team than last season, but until they find some sort of solution on defense, they will find it hard to win in the AAC. East Carolina, left for dead by many after the Navy game, have new life and new hope heading into this game. The two quarterback system should work well versus the poor defense of SMU, and ECU should be able to score at will. Expect both teams to put up some points, but East Carolina wins comfortably. East Carolina 45, SMU 24.