GAME NOTES: The UCF Knights open up their Conference USA schedule at home on
Thursday night against the first-place East Carolina Pirates.
East Carolina's season has been up and down, alternating wins and losses since
winning its opener against Appalachian State, 35-13. However, the Pirates have
won where it matters most -- in conference play, defeating Southern Miss on
the road (24-14) and UTEP at home (28-18). They will have their hands full
playing in Orlando however, as they've lost four of their last five road games
dating back to last season.
Much like ECU, UCF have yet to win or lose consecutive games this season,
alternating wins against Akron (56-14) and FIU (33-20), with losses coming to
nationally-ranked Ohio State (31-16) and Missouri (21-16).
The Pirates have a significant advantage in the all-time series with UCF,
winning nine of the first 11 matchups, including a 38-31 decision in
Greenville last year.
The ECU offense has been marginal at best this season, scoring 20.6 ppg on
fewer than 350 yards per game, but it is coming off a solid performance
against UTEP, piling up 475 total yards.
Shane Carden has been under center most of the time, completing 60.9 percent
of his passes (70-of-115) for 693 yards, but he has thrown more interceptions
(four) than touchdowns (three). Rio Johnson has seen plenty of time at
quarterback as well, but he has done little to impress (46-of-72, 435 yards,
two TDs, four INTs).
Justin Hardy has been the preferred target for the quarterbacks as he ranks
second in C-USA in receptions with 34, for 361 yards and four scores. No other
ECU receiver has more than 12 catches.
Vintavious Cooper is coming off a career-best game (151 yards, TD), and now
has a team-high 304 rushing yards on 51 carries.
The Pirates have a winning record despite having a defense that allows more
points than the offense scores (24 ppg). The unit has played well in terms of
forcing turnovers however, notching five interceptions and five fumble
Damon Magazu (35 tackles), Jeremy Grove (33 tackles, three TFL, two FF) and
Chip Thompson (18 tackles, two INT) anchor the defense. Thompson is the
reigning C-USA Defensive Player of the Week, recording eight tackles and a
fourth-quarter interception against UTEP.
The team has 10 sacks this season, but no player has more than one.
UCF has displayed one of the most explosive offenses in the conference this
year, putting up 30.3 ppg, but it is coming off a game against Missouri where
it only scored a pair of touchdowns.
Blake Bortles has shown promise at quarterback, completing two-thirds of his
passes (87-of-130) for 935 yards and nine touchdowns, but the sophomore has
also been turnover prone, tossing five interceptions.
Storm Johnson has emerged as the team's top performer out of the backfield
with 57 carries for 280 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Brynn Harvey (147
yards, TD) and Latavius Murray (108 yards, TD) have also seen received their
share of carries.
J.J. Worton leads the team in both receptions (17) and yards (246), but
Rannell Hall isn't far behind with 13 catches for 225 yards. Hall also has a
team-best three receiving touchdowns.
The Knights defense has been stout thus far, allowing just 21.5 ppg while
holding opponents to only 29 percent on third-down conversion attempts.
Troy Davis has stood out on an impressive defensive line, logging 5.5 tackles
for loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Thomas Niles
has three sacks and Kemal Ishmael has 33 total tackles, an interception and
two forced fumbles.
ECU has looked sharp early on in conference play, but the club is about to
face its toughest C-USA challenge yet. The Pirates play a much more
conservative style of offense than do the Knights, and if they can dictate the
pace of the game early they could have a shot. That said, Bortles' big-play
ability should be enough to help UCF record the home victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UCF 31, East Carolina 24