East Carolina (4-1) at Tulane (4-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 12, 3:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (72,000) -- New Orleans, Louisiana. Television: WITN. Home Record: ECU 2-1, Tulane 2-1. Away Record: ECU 2-0, Tulane 2-1. Neutral Record: ECU 0-0, Tulane 0-0. Conference Record: ECU 2-0, Tulane 2-0. Series Record: East Carolina leads, 10-2.
GAME NOTES: The East Carolina Pirates and Tulane Green Wave are both 2-0 in league action as they get set to square off in a crucial Conference USA battle at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
ECU began the season with two easy wins over Old Dominion and Florida Atlantic before it suffered a 15-10 setback to Virginia Tech at home. The Pirates bounced back from their lone loss with an impressive 55-31 victory over North Carolina at Keenan Stadium and improved to 2-0 on the road last week with a 24-17 win at Middle Tennessee. Marshall and FIU are the only other schools from the East Division without a loss in league play, although they both have only played one conference rival at this point. The decision over the Blue Raiders marked the seventh consecutive C-USA triumph for coach Ruffin McNeal's squad. ECU has not been 3-0 on the road since the 1999 campaign.
The Green Wave have emerged as the surprise team in the C-USA with a strong start. Curtis Johnson led Tulane to a 2-10 finish last season in his rookie year as a head coach. It appeared Johnson was in for another rough year after his team dropped to 1-1 with a 41-39 loss to South Alabama at home in week two. The Green Wave's last-second 24-21 victory over North Texas last week marked their third win in four games. They are currently tied with Rice for first place in a West Division that is clearly up for grabs due to Tulsa's poor start.
Tulane has not been too successful versus ECU in the past as it comes in with only two wins in 12 tries against the Pirates, who have won the last five meetings between the schools. The Green Wave held their own when ECU visited the Mercedes-Benz Superdome last November, however they eventually lost, 28-23, to the bowl-bound Pirates.
The Pirates managed to leave Murfreesboro with a win despite the loss of leading rusher Vintavious Cooper late in the first quarterback as they relied on the strong play of Shane Carden to survive the second installment of their three-game road trip. Carden completed 43 of his 57 pass attempts for 365 yards and threw a touchdown pass to Justin Hardy, who led all receivers with 85 yards on eight catches. Carden and Hardy form one of the most dangerous connections in the nation, which has given ECU the top passing offense in the conference at 309.6 yards per game. Hardy's career average of 6.9 catches per game is the third best among active players.
Cooper, who rushed for 186 yards against UNC, was held out of action last week after displaying concussion-like symptoms. The tailback who surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in 2012 is expected to return this week, but Chris Hairston could see an increased role after playing well with Cooper sidelined last week. Carden is on pace to break Dominique Davis's program record of 3,967 passing yards in a single-season through five games. The Pirates posted 511 yards of total offense thanks to their incredible 17 conversions of 23 third- down plays last week at Floyd Stadium. They are ranked seventh among FBS programs with a 56.3 percent success rate on third down.
ECU appears to be one of the top teams in the C-USA on the defensive side of the ball as well, primarily thanks to a stingy run defense that submits only 80.6 yards per game on the ground to the opposition to rank fifth nationally. The Pirates are ranked second in the C-USA in scoring defense with 22.8 points allowed per game and fourth in total defense at 370.4 ypg. ECU held MT to just 334 total yards of offense and recorded a pair of momentum changing interceptions as well. Damon Magazu made 11 tackles and recorded an interception to anchor the team. He is leading the team on the campaign with 37 total stops, while Derrel Johnson has proven himself as a relentless force with six tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries.
Tulane's offense just barely got the job done last week in its thrilling 24-21 win over North Texas. Nick Montana finished the game with only 132 yards on 18- of-28 passing, but the son of the legendary Joe Montana came through in the clutch. Montana connected with his favorite target Ryan Grant three times and also picked up 12 yards on a draw on the Green Wave's late fourth quarter drive that set up All-American place kicker Cairo Santos for a game-winning 27-yard field goal as time expired.
Ryan Grant made six catches for 60 yards in the contest. He is without a doubt the most important player on Tulane's offense as he leads the C-USA with 521 receiving yards and is tied with Hardy for first with 40 receptions. He and Justyn Shackleford each have four touchdown catches. The Green Wave have improved their rushing attack from terrible to sub par by utilizing the duo of Orleans Darkwa and Rob Kelly, who have combined for 643 yards on the ground. Darkwa has scored a C-USA best six rushing touchdowns, which is double the total Tulane amassed in the 2012 season.
While Grant is the MVP of Tulane's offense, Lorenzo Doss is standing out on the defensive side of the ball. Doss earned the C-USA Player of the Week award after he intercepted two passes and returned one his picks for a touchdown in the win over NT. The sophomore cornerback leads the conference and ranks ninth nationally with four interceptions on the season. His strong play has contributed to the Green Wave's FBS leading total of 18 takeaways. The team has held four of its six opponents to 21 points or less.
Tulane is not going to have as many opportunities for interceptions this week as it faces ECU's steady signal caller. Carden has been the most accurate quarterback in the C-USA so far, completing 73.4 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns to four interceptions. Although it will not come easy, the Pirates should be able to extend their winning streak versus Tulane.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 31, Tulane 24
10/09 10:35:33 ET