DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 20th, 1:00 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Rice Stadium (47,000) -- Houston, Texas. Television: WITN, CSS. Home Record: ECU 4-1, Rice 1-4. Away Record: ECU 2-3, Rice 1-4. Neutral Record: ECU 0-0, Rice 0-0. Conference Record: ECU 5-1, Rice 1-5. Series Record: East Carolina leads, 2-1.
GAME NOTES: Currently tied for the top spot in the East Division of the Conference USA standings, the East Carolina Pirates will try to keep their title hopes alive when they travel to Houston this Saturday to take on the Rice Owls.
The Pirates are 5-1 in league play this season, but the lone setback came against UCF, who is also 5-1 in the East Division, and holds the tie-breaker over ECU. However, the Pirates continue to fight and snapped a two-game slide with a 54-42 decision over UAB on November 11th.
As for the Owls, their season has been a miserable one, as the team has dropped eight of its 10 contests to date. Rice is currently mired in a three- game slide, which includes a 54-49 setback to Tulane last weekend. All three losses came on the road for the Owls, who last won at home against Houston (34-31), which was also their lone conference win.
Last season the Pirates took a 2-1 lead in the all-time series against Rice with a 49-13 victory.
East Carolina lit up the skies in its recent win over UAB, as the Pirates torched their conference foe for 364 yards and five touchdowns through the air. Dominique Davis was at his best in the contest, as the quarterback threw all five touchdowns for ECU, while finishing the game with 331 yards on 26- of-41 passing. Five different players hauled in a touchdown pass, as Davis was able to work the ball around the field. Lance Lewis and Dwayne Harris, who both scored, finished with six receptions apiece, while Jon Williams, finished with 115 yards on five catches, to go along with his touchdown. Williams also made his presence known on the ground, rushing for a team-best 82 yards, while also scoring a TD on the ground. There is no secret that ECU is producing 38.2 ppg on the year mainly because of Davis and company. The veteran gunslinger has thrown for 3,077 yards and has 31 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions. While Davis does spread the ball around, his two top targets, Harris and Lewis, have combined for 139 receptions for 1,580 yards and 19 scores. Williams has collected 45 passes on the year, but his value in determined by his success running the football. Thus far, the tailback has just 659 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, but that is good enough to opposing defenses from concentrating on the pass.
What has been the downfall for ECU this season has been the play of the defense, which seems to get worse as the year progresses. Over the last three games the Pirates have surrendered an inexcusable 167 points, and even though East Carolina was victorious in its last game, this unit still managed to give up 42 points to a UAB squad that has been nothing special offensively. If not for a 27 point outburst by the Pirates in the fourth quarter ECU would have been defeated for the third straight game. The defense was simply abused through the air, as the Blazers aired out the football to the tune of 418 yards and five touchdowns. Through 10 games this defense has allowed 24 touchdowns via the pass, but that is only the half of the story for coach Ruffin McNeill's team, as the defense has also been trounced on the ground, allowing 212.6 ypg. All that yardage has added up to 41.4 ppg surrendered by this defense, which makes it a remarkable feat that this year's East Carolina team has collected six victories.
Rarely does a team score 49 points and loss a matchup, but that was the case for Rice this past weekend, as the team poured on the points against Tulane, but still ended the contest with its eighth loss on the year. Rice had its way with Tulane's defense on the ground, as the Owls rumbled for 252 yards and three scores. Jeremy Eddington led the way with 103 yards and one score, while Sam McGuffie helped out with 71 yards and one score. Nick Fanuzzi threw two touchdowns in the matchup, but also tossed three costly interceptions that landed the signal caller on the bench. he was replaced by Taylor Cook, who also found the end zone twice, and finished the loss with 101 yards. Three of the passing touchdowns went into the direction of Vance McDonald, who totaled 103 yards on five catches. It was the most points scored by Rice all year, which makes the loss that much tougher to digest. However, there are some things coach David Bailiff can be thankful for, and that is the play of Cook and McDonald. Cook proved he was capable of leading this offense and could find himself as the starter this week, while McDonald, continues to blossom and now has a team-best six touchdowns.
The Owls were punished for 38 first-half points and could not recovery from the defense's poor play. Tulane used the same approach as most of Rice's opponents and that is attacking Rice through the air. Once again coach Bailiff's bunch was embarrassed against the pass, as the Green Waves crashed down on Rice for 357 yards and five touchdowns. The complete lack of success by this secondary has cost coach Bailiff plenty of sleep, and it looks like this will be the team's biggest issue down the stretch. Through 10 games opponents are torching Rice for 308.8 ypg and have scored 28 touchdowns via the pass, while suffering only four interceptions. Collecting turnovers, or the lack thereof by this unit, is another concern for the coaching staff, as Rice heads into this game with only 11 takeaways.
When two of the worst defensive teams in the nation step on the field there is always a chance some offensive records could be broken. The only difference is that East Carolina has a much better offense, and even though the Pirates are on the road, expect them to claim their seventh victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 58, Rice 49