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(15) East Carolina (3-0) at NC State (1-2)
Saturday, September 20th, 12:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 15th-ranked East Carolina Pirates are one of the nation's most surprising teams, and they will take their undefeated record to Raleigh for a non-conference clash with the NC State Wolfpack this weekend.
East Carolina raised eyebrows with a 27-22 season-opening win over Virginia Tech. Proving that the victory over the Hokies was not a fluke, the Pirates crushed West Virginia in week two by a 24-3 final. Although last weekend's 28-24 win over Tulane was closer than most predicted, it is clear that ECU is going to be a force both in Conference USA and on the national stage. Coach Skip Holtz has instilled a sense of confidence in his players, and the team is undefeated after three games for the first time since 1999.
NC State hasn't been nearly as successful this season, losing two of its first three games. After getting blanked by South Carolina in the opener, 34-0, the Wolfpack barely beat William & Mary, an FCS team, in week two. Last weekend, Clemson was the opponent, and although NC State started strong, the offense was completely ineffective in a 27-9 setback.
NC State owns a 15-10 series lead over East Carolina, including a 34-20 victory over the Pirates in last season's clash.
East Carolina is led by quarterback Pat Pinkney, who has proven to be more than capable of running the offense effectively. Against Tulane last Saturday, Pinkney completed 22-of-32 passes for 260 yards with two touchdowns. Although he was sacked four times and intercepted once, Pinkney showed a great deal of toughness and poise to lead his team to the narrow victory. He spread the ball around to several receivers, and Dwayne Harris led the way with six catches for 72 yards. "I just had to relax and trust my line and trust that my receivers would make plays and catch the ball," said Pinkney after a strong second-half effort by his offense. It is concerning that ECU managed only 56 rushing yards, as a better effort will be needed against NC State.
The Pirates are averaging 26.3 ppg and 357.0 total ypg this season. Pinkney has completed a stellar 75.9 percent of his passes for 707 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception.
Tulane scored a pair of rushing touchdowns against East Carolina last week, but don't jump to the conclusion that the Pirates played poorly against the run. Quite the opposite was true, in fact, as they yielded a mere 76 yards on 37 attempts, an average of 2.1 ypc. Against the pass, they surrendered 236 yards but did come up with two huge interceptions. "To go on the road and come off the two emotional football games that we just came off of and to come out here and play the way we did and still get a win in this game, I am as excited as I can be," said coach Holtz after the contest.
Pierre Bell has been a standout defender for Holtz this season, as he has made 23 total tackles, including 3.5 TFLs. He has also intercepted a pass and forced a fumble. C.J. Wilson has a team-high 2.5 sacks to his credit. Opponents are only scoring 16.3 ppg while gaining 268.7 total ypg against ECU.
In two games against FBS opposition, NC State has yet to score an offensive touchdown. The lone touchdown posted by the Wolfpack last weekend against Clemson came on an interception return. A total of 288 yards were gained by the 'Pack, split fairly evenly between the run and the pass. Freshman Russell Wilson took most of the snaps under center and completed fewer than 50 percent of his throws. Even the completions that he did manage averaged fewer than 10 yards. Andre Brown represented one of the lone bright spots for the offense, as he rushed for 64 yards and also led the team with 51 receiving yards.
The Wolfpack are averaging 13.7 ppg and 250 ypg of total offense, numbers that simply aren't good enough. Three different quarterbacks have seen significant action, and they have combined to throw six interceptions with two touchdowns.
Defensively, NC State permitted Clemson to gain 428 total yards last weekend, including 262 through the air. The run defense struggled as well, permitting the Tigers to post 5.7 yards per rushing attempt. Overall this season, opponents are scoring 28.3 ppg while racking up 366.7 total ypg. Give the defense plenty of credit for registering an impressive total of seven interceptions. With 10 total takeaways, the club has clearly been extremely opportunistic.
Nate Irving currently leads the 'Pack in tackles with 28, including four TFLs. NC State is yielding 4.3 yards per rushing attempt, but considering that East Carolina has not run the ball effectively this season, the Wolfpack has a chance to improve that stat this weekend.
The Pirates get the nod this weekend, as they clearly have an advantage at the quarterback position. Also, confidence is a key ingredient to success, and it is hard to believe that the Wolfpack will enter this game with their heads held high.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 20, NC State 13
09/17 10:25:15 ET