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Houston (1-3) at (23) East Carolina (3-1)
Saturday, September 27th, 3:30 p.m. (et)
From The Sports Network
By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 23rd-ranked East Carolina Pirates will try to bounce back from their first defeat of the season, as they host the Houston Cougars in a key Conference USA bout at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this weekend.
The Pirates are one of the surprises of the 2008 season, having opened the year with two straight wins over nationally-ranked opponents, but they are coming off their first loss of the year. In Raleigh last weekend, the then 15th-ranked Pirates were upset by rival NC State, 30-24, for their first setback in four outings. ECU though, now turns its focus back to C-USA, where it opened its slate with a 28-24 triumph over Tulane on September 13th.
As for Houston, it enters the contest riding a three-game losing streak following a 55-3 season-opening win over Southern. The team was last in action this past weekend, when it suffered a 28-25 loss at Colorado State. It was team's second game in row decided by three points, as the Cougars were on the short end of a 31-28 outcome versus Air Force on September 13th.
In terms of the all-time series, ECU holds a 5-3 edge over Houston and that includes a 37-35 victory in last season's meeting.
The Cougars have been able to move the ball successfully this season, as they are averaging a healthy 526.2 total ypg, including 399.0 ypg through the air. Last weekend, Houston rolled up a solid 473 yards of total offense, but four turnovers cost them in a 28-25 loss to Colorado State.
Case Keenum accounted for three miscues on interceptions and that overshadowed his 380-yard and three-touchdown performance through the air. Despite last weekend's mistakes, Keenum has been rather sensational for Houston the year, passing for 380.2 ypg with 16 touchdowns against just four picks. If that weren't enough, he also ranks second with 143 rushing yards. Mark Hafner has been his favorite target and he leads the team with 30 catches, 319 yards and seven touchdowns. In a losing cause, Hafner posted eight receptions for 73 yards and a score last weekend. In the backfield, Bryce Beall ran for 96 yards on 14 carries last weekend and he now leads the squad with 220 yards for the year.
The problem for Houston this season has been its defense, which is giving up 29.5 ppg and 438.2 total ypg. The unit has been simply torched by the run, allowing opposing ground attacks to average 235.0 ypg.
Last weekend, the Cougars did a better job against the run, although the 146 yards they allowed isn't all that great. The focus on stopping the run, though, cost the defense anyway, as Colorado State threw for 276 yards on an efficient 24-of-34 pass attempts. Houston failed to force a single turnover and its defense spent over 37 minutes of the game on the field. Quinte Williams paced the team in defeat with 10 tackles and a forced fumble, while Phillip Hunt recorded both of the team's sacks. For the year, Hunt now leads the team in both TFLs (five) and sacks (three).
Patrick Pinkney committed two turnovers, including one in overtime, as ECU suffered a 30-24 loss to NC State this past weekend. On the third play of overtime, Pinkney was hit and lost the football and NC State recovered and went on to win the game on its possession.
"I kept saying it was a quick game," stated head coach Skip Holtz about the fumble in overtime. "You don't have time to run around and hold the ball. On that play, Patrick was running out and they (NC State) had a guy coming from his blind side. Unfortunately, he was able to hit Patrick and poke the ball out."
Despite the fumble, Pinkney has been extremely effective this season and he is completing 71.3 percent of his tosses for an average of 229.2 ypg. He has thrown five touchdowns against just to picks and has also rushed for 72 yards and a score. Dwayne Harris was on the receiving end of 10 passes last weekend and they led to 88 yards. He is now tops the roster in catches (28) and receiving yards (296), although he has yet to find the end zone. As for the ground game, it is averaging a respectable 132.5 ypg, but their is no one featured back. Three players have rushed for over 100 yards this season for the Pirates, with Jonathan Williams and his 171 yards leading the way.
ECU's defense did a solid job last weekend, but the unit did allow NC State to drive 55 yards late in the fourth quarter to tie the score and force overtime on a touchdown pass with just over a minute left. The unit then saw NC State score on just three plays in the extra session. Still, the Pirates limited NC State to 384 total yards and they also forced a pair of turnovers, including a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown by Van Eskridge.
ECU has generated eight turnovers on the season, in addition to limiting opposing clubs to a mere 297.5 total ypg. C.J. Wilson has played a big part in the team's success on defense, as he leads the club with 6.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks. In last weekend's loss, Wilson had six stops, 1.5 TFLs and a sack.
The Cougars have plenty of firepower on the offensive side of the ball, but it remains to be seen if their defense can stop anybody. Because of this, the Pirates are the play, as they too have an effective offense, but with a much tougher defense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 35, Houston 27
09/24 10:37:08 ET