The last time we saw the East Carolina Pirates (4-6, 2-4 AAC), they were stumbling around the Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium turf in an ugly 22-17 loss to South Florida. While they made it close in the second half against the Bulls, the Pirates could not overcome a horrible start. The offense bottomed out in the first half, accumulating only 29 yards at halftime before finishing with a total of 220 yards on the night.
Luckily, ECU had a bye last week, so they've had two weeks to try to sort out whatever issues they have on offense. Then again, the Pirates have looked so discombobulated at times, it remains to be seen if two weeks was long enough to work through the myriad of issues they have on offense.
UCF (0-10, 0-6 AAC) also had the bye week and a little bit of an opportunity to get some players healthy. Not that this ought to matter much. While ECU is a team in chaos after dropping its last three games, the Pirates should be more than a match for the staggering disaster UCF calls a football team.
Start time: Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 7:30 PM.
Location: Bright House Networks Stadium, Orlando, FL.
Radio: 96.9-FM & 740-AM - Orlando.
Betting Line: ECU is a fifteen point favorite.
The Series: ECU leads the series 9-4. The Knights have won two straight, including 2014's classic in which the Knights grabbed a share of the AAC Conference Championship on "O Holy Knight":
That's the last football game UCF won, by the way. December 4, 2014 was a long time ago.
ECU Outlook: The central issue for the Pirate offense is a dismal quarterback situation. James Summers was at the forefront of the USF debacle, with his slow start contributing to the overall malaise in the first half. His final numbers (14-22, 158 yards and 20 carries, 42 yards, 2 TD) were decent, but his first half performance is more representative of the recent struggles of the offense over the past several games.
Summers has the ability to get the offense moving, especially with his feet. However, the run game has also been MIA during the course of the Pirates' current three game skid. ECU had only 62 rushing yards total against USF, with Summers (42 yards) and Chris Hairston (24 yards) accounting for all of the yardage. Those two will again be looked on to provide some sort of output against UCF, but if things continue the way they've been going the past few games, don't expect much of anything from ECU on the ground.
By comparison, the passing game has been better, although not without its issues as well. Summers has been the designated starter, despite completing 57% of his passes and throwing no touchdowns in the last three games. Backup Blake Kemp was a threat earlier in the season, but inconsistency lost him the job. For better or worse, it looks like Ruffin McNeill is sticking with Summers.
It's a shame the Pirate offense has been playing so poorly, because the defense has done more than its fair share to keep them in the game. They've allowed a good deal of yardage, but have done a good job of limiting big plays. A prime example occurred against USF, when they held Quinton Flowers and Marlon Mack at bay for much of that game. We saw how explosive those two were against Temple, so that gives us an idea of what the ECU defense can do.
UCF Outlook: Look, Interim head coach Danny Barrett is probably going winless during his tenure (just like the Knights' last interim head coach, Alan Gooch, did back in 2003). UCF fans should have no illusions about the Knights' chances against even a team as inconsistent as ECU.
But we'd be remiss to not at least acknowledge that UCF has been able to do some things better in recent weeks. The offense has picked up a bit, especially the run game. Against their two most recent opponents Tulsa and Cincinnati, UCF had 321 rushing yards. And that's much better than the mere 466 yards the Knights had accumulated on the ground over the first eight games of the season.
There's also an opportunity for the Knights young wide receivers to make a bit of noise and get us looking towards the future. True freshman Tristan Payton and redshirt freshman Tre'Quan Smith should be healthy after having been dinged up two weeks ago at Tulsa. Watching Smith establish himself has been one of the (few) joys for Knights fans this year. Going into the game, he's tied with J.J. Worton for most receptions by a freshman in UCF history (with 41) and has the second most receiving yards (572) among UCF freshman all-time. Smith can be a special player, as demonstrated by his 131 yard outing (plus a touchdown) against Tulsa which featured this catch:
More of that, please.
Prediction: Both teams are coming off of a bye, so fatigue shouldn’t be a factor. Given that both ECU and UCF have struggled offensively, don’t expect many points or big plays. In the end, the Pirate defense will be able to hold off UCF, while the offense will be able to pull itself together just long enough to get the win.
ECU 24 – UCF 21