When the East Carolina Pirates visit the South Florida Bulls on Saturday, both teams will be looking for their first American Athletic Conference victory of the season.
The Pirates (0-2, 0-1 AAC), led by second-year coach Mike Houston, rank sixth among the nine AAC teams that have played a game this year in average points scored (28.5). East Carolina’s defense is last in the AAC in points (50.0) and also yards allowed (558.5).
In addition, the Pirates have yet to sack the quarterback, and they are a league-worst minus-four on turnover differential.
East Carolina’s red-zone defense has been unable to come up with a turnover or a stop that keeps an opponent off the board. On 12 trips, Pirates opponents have 12 scores — five passing touchdowns, four running TDs and three field goals.
Among the Pirates’ top performers on offense are quarterback Holton Ahlers and wide receivers Tyler Snead and Blake Proehl.
Ahlers, a junior, is fourth in the league with 228.5 passing yards per game. Last year, he ranked ninth in FBS in total yardage (3,746). Snead and Proehl are tied for fourth in the league with 6.5 receptions per game.
The Pirates should be able to put up some offensive numbers on Saturday — but only if they avoid the turnovers that have plagued them so far. In a season-opening 51-28 loss to Central Florida, East Carolina lost three straight fumbles and also had an interception. Then, in a 49-29 loss to Georgia State last week, Ahlers was intercepted three times. East Carolina is also averaging 101 yards in penalties in two games.
“All those mistakes,” Houston said, “you just can’t keep making them.”
Meanwhile, the Bulls (1-2, 0-1), coached by former Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott, have faced a tough schedule. After a 27-6 season-opening win over The Citadel, the Bulls lost 52-0 to No. 5 Notre Dame and 28-7 to No. 11 Cincinnati.
USF tied a school record last week by picking off five passes in the loss to Cincinnati.
“Our defense kept us in the game,” Scott said. “But we didn’t play complementary football. Our offense wasn’t very good.”
Scott, however, did see a bright side.
“We’ve played top-15 teams the past two weeks,” he said, “and our guys are getting good experience.”
The Bulls, who had a game against Florida Atlantic postponed due to unspecified COVID-19 issues, were without 12 players against Cincinnati, including eight on defense.
Offensively, the Bulls have used four quarterbacks in three games: sophomore Jordan McCloud; North Carolina transfer Cade Fortin; Alcorn State transfer Noah Johnson and true freshman Katravis Marsh.
With the QB position so unsettled, it has caused some issues on a Bulls offense that ranks last in the league, scoring just 11.3 points per game.
That sets up a matchup between an East Carolina defense that can stop no one so far, and a USF offense that stalls out regularly. It’s an East Carolina pass rush that has sacked no one and a USF blocking wall that has allowed eight sacks, tied for worst in the league.
On the other side of the ball, Glenn Spencer — who is USF’s new defensive coordinator — is making progress. His Bulls secondary ranks first in the league with just 125 passing yards allowed per game.
Junior linebacker Antonio Grier leads USF in sacks, ranking seventh in the league. And junior safety Nick Roberts is tied with Grier for the team lead in tackles.
–Field Level Media