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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 16, 2 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (50,000) -- Greenville, North Carolina. Television: WITN. Home Record: UAB 1-2, ECU 4-1. Away Record: UAB 1-5, ECU 3-1. Neutral Record: UAB 0-0, ECU 0-0. Conference Record: UAB 1-4, ECU 5-1. Series Record: East Carolina leads, 8-4.
GAME NOTES: The East Carolina Pirates take aim at their ninth consecutive Conference USA victory at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday when the UAB Blazers visit Greenville.
UAB is coming off a 56-14 loss at Marshall that dropped it to a 2-7 overall record and 1-4 C-USA standing. The loss was the third in a row for the Blazers, who have been outscored in away games by an average of 21.7 points per game. Second-year head coach Garrick McGee has compiled a 5-16 record with the Blazers since his arrival in Birmingham. The team's two victories this season have come over FCS foe Northwestern State and the FIU Panthers, who are entering the weekend with a 1-8 overall record.
The Pirates coasted to a 58-24 decision over Tulsa last week at home to maintain their position atop the East Division standings. ECU could improve to 8-2 for the first time since 1999 on Saturday, and will have a chance to punch its ticket to the C-USA Championship when it plays Marshall in its season finale even if the Blazers pull off an upset. Coach Ruffin McNeill's team has now won three games in a row overall and seven consecutive East Division matchups.
This will be the 13th meeting in history between the Blazers and Pirates. ECU has won the last six encounters to take an 8-4 all-time series lead. UAB came close to ending its losing slide to the Pirates last season in Birmingham before falling, 42-35.
Despite being pummeled on the scoreboard by the Thundering Herd last week, the Blazers amassed 464 total offensive yards and 22 first downs. McGee's emphasis on establishing the run has helped them post an average of 190 rushing yards per game to rank fourth in the C-USA. UAB is averaging 26.7 ppg, but has settled for field goals on 12 of its 26 trips to the red zone.
Tailback Jordan Howard is one of the nation's best rookie running backs, rushing for more than 100 yards in three of the past four games, including a 123-yard effort versus the Thundering Herd his last time out. Howard is the leading rusher in the country among freshmen with a 96.6 yards average. Darrin Reaves was also effective in Huntington as he produced 98 yards and a score on 24 totes. Reaves also led the team in receiving with 47 yards and a touchdown on three catches.
Despite trailing for the majority of the contest versus Marshall, Jonathan Perry attempted only 17 passes. The senior signal caller connected on 10 of his throws for 176 yards, including the TD pass to Reaves. The contest marked just the second start of the season for Perry, who has completed 54.2 percent of his passes for 688 yards with seven TDs and three picks. McGee also has a capable backup in Austin Brown, who finished with 319 yards and three scoring passes versus ECU in 2012.
The issue for the Blazers this season has been their porous defense. They inability to stop the opposition's attack was on full display last week as Marshall racked up 657 yards of total offense with three different players compiling over 100 rushing yards. UAB's unit allows 40.3 ppg and 480 ypg, which gives them the 116th rank in both scoring defense and total defense among the 123 FBS schools. Jake Ganus leads the team with 76 tackles, which is 38 more than any of his teammates. He has also registered six tackles for loss and Diaheem Watkins has been a factor with 4.5 sacks.
ECU should have no trouble versus UAB with Shane Carden leading the charge. Carden accounted for a school-record seven total touchdowns in last week's rout of the Golden Hurricane. The junior quarterback completed 34-of-50 attempts for 383 yards and five touchdowns, while also rushing into the end zone twice. In his just second season as the full-time starter, Carden has become the leading passer in the C-USA across the board by completing 72.9 percent of his attempts for 2,973 yards and 24 touchdowns with only five interceptions.
Many of Carden's passes have gone in the direction of fellow junior Justin Hardy, who is leading the conference with averages of 9.1 receptions and 111.1 receiving yards per game. Hardy established a new school record of 23 career touchdown catches last week while also reaching the 1,000-yard mark in receiving yards on the season to become the first Pirate to accomplish that feat twice. Hardy needs just 124 more receiving yards to set a new ECU single- season record.
Vintavious Cooper is the team's most used weapon in the backfield, although ECU clearly favors its aerial attack. It is hard to argue with McNeill's strategy which has helped the Pirates produce 445.3 total yards and 39.1 points per contest.
McNeill's defensive unit is surrendering only 336.1 total yards per game, which is the lowest average in the C-USA. ECU is especially strong against the run as its opponents are netting just 3.1 yards per carry and 96.7 ypg on the ground, which gives it the seventh best rushing defense in the nation. Sophomore linebacker Montese Overton has registered a team-high six sacks and nine stops behind the line. Last week versus Tulsa, the defense forced a total of four turnovers, including DaShaun Amos's interception that he returned 100 yards for a touchdown
UAB's talented running back tandem will have trouble finding room against the Pirates. ECU is firing on all cylinders offensively and defensively heading into its home finale. McNeill has a very strong chance of guiding this squad to a C-USA Championship before it departs next season to join the American Athletic Conference.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 55, UAB 21
11/14 15:05:54 ET