Location: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium - Greenville, NC
Date: Saturday, October 2
Time: 2:30 p.m. CT
TV: ESPN+ (The service can be accessed here)
Records: Tulane 1-3 (0-0 AAC), ECU 2-2 (0-0 AAC)
Betting Line: Tulane -4.0, O/U 64.5
All-Time Series: ECU leads 11-6
Last Meeting: Tulane 38, ECU 21 (November 7, 2020)
Quick Hits: The Green Wave are coming off a 21-28 loss to UAB last Saturday night in their first home contest of the season. Tulane will be playing East Carolina on the road for the second consecutive year and is looking to get their fourth straight victory over the Pirates.
ECU is looking for their third win in a row after narrowly defeating Charleston Southern last week. The Pirates, who have not had a winning record since 2014, will be looking for their first win over Tulane in the Mike Houston era.
From Tulane’s Perspective: Last week’s loss to the Blazers, while tough, was not entirely unexpected. That being said, starting the season 1-3 is probably not necessarily how sixth-year head coach Willie Fritz drew it up. Fritz’s Tulane teams in years past have proven that they can finish their seasons strong in the latter half to make a bowl push and that’s precisely the game plan heading into Greenville.
Tulane’s offense, which was only able to muster 90 rushing yards last week, will need to get the ground game going early. Cameron Carroll will spearhead the operation. Carroll leads the Green Wave rushers with 124 yards on 33 carries and, while those numbers don’t necessarily pop off the page, we need to remember he’s faced two ranked P5 defenses so far this fall. Carroll has proven himself to be a versatile back and actually has more touchdown receptions (two) than touchdown runs (one). Expect Fritz to use him in a variety of ways.
Joining Carroll on the ground will be Tyjae Spears and his own quarterback Michael Pratt. Spears has a touchdown on 15 rush attempts so far this season while Pratt has actually carried the ball more times than Carroll at 38 and has two touchdowns with his legs. Tulane knows how to run it in a variety of ways and will be looking to do so again after a slow night against UAB.
Pratt will also be slinging it through the air, undoubtedly to tight end Tyrick James. James has been a favorite target this season, catching 15 passes for 245 yards and two scores. He and receiver Jaetavian Toles account for well over 400 yards of Tulane’s production through the air. Pratt’s success passing will most likely hinge greatly on the play of these two.
Defensively, linebackers Nick Anderson and Dorian Williams will look to slow down ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers and his offense that is averaging nearly 400 yards per game. Anderson and Williams have tallied 36 total tackles between them, three of which have been for a loss.
Tulane’s secondary will have their hands full with receivers like Tyler Snead. Snead has over 200 receiving yards this season and he already one of seven Pirates with a receiving touchdown this year. Macon Clark and Larry Brooks have been two of the Green Wave’s signature DBs and they will both need to lay the wood to slow down Snead and keep Ahlers at bay.
From East Carolina’s Perspective: This game has to be about Ahlers and his improvement from a less-than-stellar start. The junior signal-caller has oodles of experience under his belt in this his fourth season but he already has thrown five picks on the year (and the same number of touchdowns). He has to clean up the interceptions against a Tulane defense that has picked off five passes already in 2021 and taken one back for a score.
Ahlers is already nearing 1,000 passing yards this season and has a completion percentage of 58%. There’s no question that he’s a talented passer but silly mistakes against Tulane’s defense will be a lot more costly than they may have been against Charleston Southern.
Snead, as mentioned earlier, will be a key player in helping keep Ahlers on track but so too will be sophomore wideout Jsi Hatfield. Hatfield has 168 yards on seven catches this year and has a touchdown to his name. This receiving duo has the potential to be deadly and if they can navigate that talented Green Wave defense then ECU will have shot.
On the ground, the Pirates boast the talents of one Keaton Mitchell. The redshirt freshman back has been tearing it up so far this season with 45 carries that have gone for 352 yards and two touchdowns. Mitchell has been the workhorse for the offense and could match up nicely against a defense that is surrendering nearly 200 rush yards per contest. If the Pirates find themselves with a lead in the second half, don’t be surprised to see a heavy dose of this kid.
East Carolina’s defense will go as Ja’Quan McMillan goes. McMillan already has three picks this season and leads the team in tackles with 27. He also has nine PBUs and a touchdown. If Pratt doesn’t know where he is during every play, odds are high that McMillan will be able to create a turnover or two.
Final Thoughts: The Green Wave are favored to win this game and that’s exactly why they should be at least a little worried. The 1-3 start is forgivable given the quality of the non-conference schedule they’ve faced but Tulane cannot come into this game overlooking an ECU team who’s riddled with talent on both sides of the ball. The Pirates were a team that many of our staff writers said to keep an eye on in the preseason and, while obviously the Marshall win is much more impressive than the CSU one, East Carolina is not to be taken lightly. Again, Tulane should win this one if they play to their talent level but if the Pirates are able to keep it close, the homefield advantage may just enough to spur them to an early AAC upset.
Prediction: Tulane 31 - ECU 24