Once again, USF will play the No. 19 team in the country, for the second consecutive game when it hosts East Carolina on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Raymond James Stadium.
Saturday’s game marks two straight ranked opponents for the Bulls this season, but the Pirates pose a different threat than Wisconsin, which beat USF 27-10 on Sept. 27.
The Bulls will face dark horse Heisman-contender quarterback Shane Carden and the surging Pirates.
ECU (4-1, 1-0) has averaged 395 passing yards per game, placing it fourth in the nation. Carden has thrown for 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He has also thrown for over 400 yards in the last three games, in which the Pirates defeated Virginia Tech, North Carolina and SMU.
"You see a three-year starter at QB and then you have some veteran guys he's throwing the football to. They play with confidence,” coach Willie Taggart said.
Carden’s go-to target has been senior wide receiver Justin Hardy. Hardy has caught 37 passes for a team-leading 479 yards and five touchdowns this season, which are more touchdowns than all of the Bulls’ receivers combined.
The Pirates have never been out of any game, with their only loss coming to No. 21 South Carolina, 33-23. Their ability to stay close with any team they face is due to the fact that they average 43.8 points a game, which ranks ninth out of all FBS teams.
"The challenge they bring is their experience,” Taggart said. “They've played a lot of football and they know what is going on.”
Despite its success this season, ECU has been stopped. South Carolina, the only team to beat ECU, intercepted Carden twice.
The Bulls are capable of creating turnovers just like South Carolina did, as they have forced 12 through five games. Four of those turnovers have been interceptions, which USF will need in order to stop the ECU offense.
USF will also need to keep up with the high-powered offense of ECU, and getting senior wide receiver Andre Davis, who has been out with a bruised sternum, back will certainly help.
The return of Davis will open up the offense for more deep passes; he averaged 15 yards per catch last season.
“I took the coach approach and saw things you wouldn’t see if you were out there playing,” Davis said, after having been sidelined for four weeks.
USF will need to double its usual scoring ouput per game to keep up with the ECU offense. The Bulls have averaged only 19.4 points per game and have had two passing touchdowns compared to Carden’s 15.
The Bulls need to establish the running game with freshman Marlon Mack, as nearly all of their offensive success has come from him. USF is 2-0 when Mack rushes for over 100 yards in a game.
“Offensively, they have the top running back in the league, in rushing average,” ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said. “He really runs the ball well. They can line up, get toe-to-toe, pound you and also try to spread the ball a little bit.”
If USF can create takeaways and play turnover-free football, it has a chance to stay in the game against the Pirates. If it fails to do so, it will likely be another missed opportunity against the No. 19 team in the nation.
The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.