Riding the euphoric afterglow in the wake of their 16-13 victory against Southern Miss, the Bulls have to refocus their attention on another future Conference USA rival – East Carolina.
While the Golden Eagles entered Raymond James Stadium with a 4-1 record, including victories against Memphis and Illinois with their lone defeat a 20-7 setback to Alabama, the Bulls travel to Greenville, N.C., to face the slumping Pirates (2-3). Still, the Bulls have a healthy respect for East Carolina and C-USA.
“I’ve always thought Conference USA was going to be a great league,” senior linebacker Kawika Mitchell said. “Southern Miss is good team. They’ve beaten SEC teams and other big-time schools.”
While maintaining a healthy respect for their future conference foes, East Carolina has been eroding its national profile in 2002.
ECU was a bowl squad the past three seasons, but following the departure of four-year starting quarterback David Garrard and C-USA’s single season rushing leader, Leonard Henry, the Pirates have fallen on hard times. Their season-opening defeat to Duke ended the Blue Devils’ 23-game losing streak as sophomore Paul Troth has yet to find his niche as Garrard’s replacement.
Troth has completed 53 percent of his passes, but has nearly twice as many interceptions (nine) as touchdowns (five).
Art Brown has capably taken the reins from Henry, rushing for an average of 101.8 yards per contest. Brown is also the Pirates’ leading receiver with 16 catches.
However, Brown hasn’t been enough to raise the ECU offense from the fringes of the NCAA rankings. The Pirates are 112 out of 117 teams in total offense, with the No. 84 rushing attack and a passing game that sits at No. 94, mustering 167 yards per game.
The Bulls (4-2) will most likely seek to expose ECU’s most crippling weakness on defense – stopping the run.
Although the Pirates have the 12th-best defense against the pass, ECU is getting hammered on the ground, surrendering more than 220 yards per game. That total is mostly based on the 536 yards West Virginia piled on Sept. 28.
Avon Cobourne racked up 260 yards and two touchdowns, while teammate Quincy Wilson nearly topped the 200-yard plateau as well, carrying 14 times for 198 yards and one score.
Yet, ECU coach Steve Logan is more concerned with cornering USF quarterback Marquel Blackwell.
“You can get a little bit of pressure on the guy, and most people have, but you can’t get him down,” Logan said. “You can’t catch him to put him on the ground. So, it will be a little bit of a cat-and-mouse game that goes on. …
“He is one of the best that I have seen on film, so we are going to try to concoct something that will hopefully give him some problems.”