FACTS & STATS: Site: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (50,000) — Greenville, North
Carolina. Television: ESPN. Home Record: UCF 6-0, ECU 5-0. Away Record: UCF
2-2, ECU 3-3. Neutral Record: UCF 0-1, ECU 0-0. Conference Record: UCF 6-1,
ECU 5-2. Series Record: East Carolina leads, 9-3.
GAME NOTES: The East Carolina Pirates and UCF Knights close out the 2-14
regular season against one another, as the pair meet up on Thursday evening at
Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in an American Athletic Conference showdown.
George O’Leary’s Knights enter the contest at 8-3 overall with a 6-1 mark in
the AAC. The team has posted three straight wins, including last week’s 16-0
shutout of USF. UCF can win a share of the conference crown with a victory in
this game, marking the team’s first back-to-back conference championships
after winning last year’s league crown.
Ruffin McNeill’s Pirates are also sporting an 8-3 ledger, with a 5-2 mark in
the AAC. East Carolina has now qualified for 10 bowl appearances since 2000,
including eight of the last nine years. ECU has won two straight games,
including a 49-32 win at Tulsa last week.
These two former C-USA rivals are meeting for the 13th time in history. East
Carolina holds a 9-3 series advantage, although UCF won the last matchup, a
40-20 decision in Orlando back in 2012.
UCF’s passing attack took a little step back this season with Blake Bortles’
move to the NFL. In his stead though, sophomore Justin Holman hasn’t played
bad, as the 6-foot-4 youngster has completed almost 60 percent of his passes,
for 2,387 yards and 19 touchdowns. He has added three more scores on the
Holman has spread the wealth this season, with no player catching more than 37
balls on the year. Junior Breshad Perriman leads the team with 37 receptions,
for 767 yards and eight TDs. Fellow wideout J.J. Worton (36 rec, 516 yds, 5
TDs) was a viable second option but a recent knee injury has left him
sidelined for the remainder of the season.
The UCF ground game has put up modest numbers at best at 130.7 yards per game
and injuries have been one of the reasons why. Both William Stanback (558
yards, 8 TDs) and Dontravious Wilson (338 yards, 3 TDs) have missed
significant time this year. Stanback (shoulder) is probable for Thursday’s
game, while Wilson (shoulder) is questionable.
While the UCF offense has had its ups and downs, the defense has been much
more consistent. The Knights rank fifth nationally in scoring defense (16.8
ppg), sixth in pass defense (166.2 ypg) and fourth in total defense (271.2
Senior middle linebacker Terrance Plummer has made plays all over the field,
with 86 total tackles, 12.5 TFl, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and two fumble
recoveries. Senior safety Clayton Geathers is second on the team with 77
stops. Junior end Thomas Niles (38 tackles) is the team’s top pass rusher with
UCF will have to be at its best defensively in this one, as East Carolina
rolls into this game with one of the nation’s most productive offenses. The
Pirates are 13th nationally in scoring (37.8 ppg) and third in both passing
(364.6 ypg) and total offense (543.8 ypg).
It all starts with senior quarterback Shane Carden. The 6-2 senior has played
at an All-America level this season, completing 64.0 percent of his passes,
for 3,912 yards, with 26 touchdowns against just six interceptions. Carden
isn’t a tremendous threat with his legs, but can be at times, scoring an
additional eight TDs on the ground.
Carden’s superb campaign has a lot to do with the guys he gets to throw to.
Senior wideout Justin Hardy is among the nation’s top wide receivers, coming
into this last game with 98 receptions, for 1,194 yards and eight TDs.
Sophomore wideout Isaiah Jones is a viable second option downfield, with 70
catches, for 708 yards and five scores.
The ECU ground game has been potent at times and amasses 179.2 yards per game.
Senior Breon Allen has handle the majority of the work out of the backfield
and leads the team with 848 yards (6.6 ypc) and eight TDs.
The ECU defense plays second fiddle to the offense in terms of production, but
has had its moments this season. The Pirates are allowing 25.1 ppg this year,
on 364.9 yards per game. The team has shown some vulnerability to the pass
(261.5 ypg), but a lot of that has to do with teams playing catchup.
Junior linebacker Zeek Bigger has been a tackling machine for ECU, collecting
120 stops, with two interceptions to his credit. Fellow linebacker Brandon
Williams is closing in on the century mark as well with 96 tackles, including
four sacks. Junior safety Josh Hawkins (38 tackles) is one of the team’s top
playmakers in secondary with four interceptions.
The Pirates’ strength is on offense, while the Knights play stingy defense.
Something will have to give in this one. With Carden closing out a brilliant
career at home this week, expect the Pirates to do enough to get the win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 27, East Carolina 20