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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, September 5, 7:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (50,000) -- Greenville, North Carolina. Television: Fox. Home Record: FAU 0-0, ECU 1-0. Away Record: FAU 0-1, ECU 0-0. Neutral Record: FAU 0-0, ECU 0-0. Conference Record: FAU 0-0, ECU 0-0. Series Record: First meeting.
GAME NOTES: On Thursday night the Florida Atlantic Owls will play their first game against a member of their new conference when they battle the East Carolina Pirates in the Conference USA opener at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The Owls spent their first nine years as a FBS program in the Sun Belt before making the transition to C-USA this season. Coming off a 3-9 record a year ago in head coach Carl Pelini's first season, the Owls didn't get off to the best start in 2013. Facing a fellow Sunshine State squad in Miami-Florida the Owls were unceremoniously dispatched, 34-6, on the road. FAU has lost three straight games dating back to last season, allowing at least 30 points in each of those setbacks.
For East Carolina the opening weekend held less of a challenge as the Pirates hosted FCS foe Old Dominion. Though a number of FBS programs would fall to FCS schools during the weekend, the Pirates remained unscathed as they rolled to a 52-38 victory. The win came in the first of a three-game homestand for the Pirates to begin the season. ECU went 8-5 a year ago and has won four of its last five games, though it fell, 43-34, to Louisiana in the New Orleans Bowl.
On Thursday night these teams won't just be meeting as conference opponents for the first time but for the first time overall.
Against Miami, the Owls really struggled on both sides of the ball. On offense the Owls managed to collect just 250 total yards, averaging 3.3 yards per play. Conversely the defense for FAU let up 503 yards to the Hurricanes and 7.3 yards per snap.
Pelini used two different quarterbacks in the contest. Jaquez Johnson got the start but wasn't overly effective as a passer. Johnson completed 11-of-20 pass attempts for 83 yards and was sacked four times. Greg Hankerson also saw time but he didn't have much success either, as he completed 5-of-11 pass attempts for just 34 yards.
The Owls' running game did prove to be somewhat effective as the squad picked up 133 yards. It was an improvement from last season when the team ranked ninth in the Sun Belt, averaging 113.1 yards per game. Jonathan Wallace was the lead rusher with 34 yards on 10 carries, though his longest run of the game was just eight yards. Johnson ran for 30 yards and was one of five rushers to have at least five carries for the Owls.
With the passing game kept largely in check there wasn't much opportunity for any of the receivers to post breakout performances. Melvin German caught three passes for 34 yards, both team-highs.
FAU was a team that was stout against the pass last season, ranking 27th nationally, allowing 204 yards per game through the air. However some of that had to do with the fact that by constantly playing from behind, the Owls' opponents would often turn to the run early to put games away.
That was the case again on Friday night. The Hurricanes threw the ball 31 times and tallied 200 yards. Miami also rushed for 303 yards on 38 attempts, averaging a hefty eight yards per carry.
Outside linebacker Adarius Glanton and cornerback Keith Reaser were the top tacklers for the Owls with eight stops apiece. Each had a TFL as well. However creating negative plays was not something FAU was able to do much of as they had just four TFLs and a single sack. Senior defensive end Cory Henry collected the quarterback takedown. Randel Johnson had seven tackles and Andrae Kirk had perhaps the best breakout performance on the unit with six tackles and an interception.
Potent offense is what carried East Carolina last season and it seems that nothing has changed on a squad that returns eight starters on that side of the ball. The Pirates recorded 481 yards of total offense, primarily through the air as they had just 34 yards rushing against Old Dominion. The 52 points the team scored marked the second time in the last two seasons the Pirates have reached 50 points in a game.
At the center of the pass-heavy offensive barrage was quarterback Shane Carden. The junior set a program record with 447 yards, breaking the mark he set last season against Marshall. Carden also tied or surpassed a number of career-highs by completing 46-of-54 pass attempts, while totaling five touchdown passes. Carden spread the ball around with completions to 10 different receivers.
Justin Hardy had the best game of his career as he hauled in 16 passes for 191 yards. Both of those marks were career highs. Danny Webster (eight receptions, 79 yards, TD) had a solid game on the edge as well, while Davon Grayson (four receptions. 28 yards, three TDs) was a lethal target in the red zone.
Vintavious Cooper, who rushed for 1,049 yards last season, managed just 38 yards on 12 carries in the win.
The Pirates' defense certainly helped in the win, although it did allow 38 points to the Monarchs. By showing flashes of an opportunistic play, the Pirates made up for the elevated point and yardage (460) totals by scoring a defensive touchdown and a pair of sacks.
Damon Magazu had a game-high 11 tackles in the contest, though none came for loss. In fact the Pirates had just three stops behind the line of scrimmage, and only one that was not a sack. Derrel Johnson (five tackles) and Gabe Woullard (two tackles) recorded the two quarterback takedowns. Woullard also forced the fumble that Ty Holmes (four tackles) returned 26 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
A year ago the Pirates surrendered 31.6 points and 430.7 yards per game, both marks in the bottom of the league. Through one game it does not look much has changed on that side of the ball.
It was certainly a tough assignment for FAU in its first game this season. Though this week will be a bit easier than playing a dark horse contender in the Atlantic Coast Conference, playing the up-tempo Pirates will still be a challenge. With Carden under center, the Pirates will be able to enforce their relentless passing tempo. That is a pace FAU can't keep up with.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 34, Florida Atlantic 21
09/04 10:44:22 ET