Fresh off their demolition of Georgia tech in Atlanta, the #13 UCF Knights are a nearly four-touchdown favorite for their American opener at the East Carolina Pirates on national TV. UCF is looking for its fifth win in a row over the Pirates.
Due to the postponement of Notre Dame/Wake Forest, this game got bumped up from ESPN+ to ABC, marking the first back-to-back ABC games for the Knights since the War on I-4 and The American Championship in 2017.
When: Noon ET
Where: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville, North Carolina
Gametime Weather: Cloudy, 78°. 15-20% chance of rain. Winds are not a factor.
Line: UCF -27, Over/under 77.5 (OddsShark)
All-time: ECU leads 10-8. UCF has won four in a row and seven of the last nine.
Last Meeting: Last year. UCF won, 41-28. The Knights were up 35-3 in the second quarter but then went into a shell, and ECU out-scored UCF 22-6 in the second half.
Of note: UCF has played ECU more times than any other opponent in school history, with 18 meetings between the two schools going back to 1990.
ECU Coming In
This is ECU’s season opener, after having three prior games wiped from their slate due to COVID-19 (vs. Marshall, at South Carolina, vs. Norfolk State). In 2019, the Pirates lost 6 of their last 7 after a 3-2 start, and their only conference win was at UConn.
Head Coach: Mike Houston (84-33, 4-8 at ECU). Houston is in his 2nd year at ECU, and 10th overall after previously coaching at Lenoir-Rhyne, The Citadel and James Madison, where he won the FCS National Championship in 2016. He’s taken every school he’s been at to at least the second round of the playoffs.
What to Watch For
When UCF Has the Ball
ECU is running a new defensive scheme under first-year coordinator Blake Harrell. Any time you have that in a season opener, there are still kinks being worked out and guys will get out of position. Dillon Gabriel eats out-of-position DBs for lunch, as we saw last week against Georgia Tech when he threw for more than 400 yards and UCF racked up ten plays of 20 yards or longer.
In the running game, UCF had six players run for more than 20 net yards, including Dillon Gabriel (!). But it was Otis Anderson and Greg McCrae who led the way (McCrae is expected to play despite an ankle injury last week).
Last year, the Pirates gave up an average of 33.7 points per game, which was 111th in FBS.
Stats from 2019
When ECU Has the Ball
QB Holton Ahlers begins his third season as the Pirates’ captain. He made his first career start in UCF’s last trip to Greenville in 2018, when Darriel Mack Jr. stepped in for a banged-up McKenzie Milton and led the Knights to victory.
Last year, Ahlers struggled in the first half of the season and through one half at UCF in the Pirates’ seventh game, when something happened - We’re still not sure. But Ahlers and the Pirates out-scored UCF 22-6 in the second half in the Bounce House, and then Ahlers flipped a switch:
#ECU's Holton Ahlers in 2019:— Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon) September 25, 2020
- First 6 games: 98/185 (52.9%), 1,142 yds, 6 TD/5 INT
- Last 6 games: 166/257 (64.6%), 2,245 yds, 15 TD/5 INT
The left-handed Ahlers is a dual-threat guy, just like Jeff Sims last week, but vastly more experienced, larger, and more accurate. Sims might have had a much better day against a UCF secondary that looked out of sync at times had he been able to hit the broad side of a barn through the air.
In a two-game stretch against Cincinnati and SMU last year, Ahlers threw for more than 1,000 yards (532 and 498) and 10 TDs with just one INT. So he can sling the pill.
Stats from 2019
2014. Hail Perriman. A share of a conference title. And the worst late-game clock management ever seen by human eyes:
It’s worth watching that last 2:17 all over again:
I wanted to call it “O Holy Knight” but somehow that didn’t stick.
Little did we know a the time it was George O’Leary’s final victory at UCF.
Since that night, ECU has gone 18-43, while UCF has gone 43-23, and that includes the 0-12 catastrophe the year after that game.
Expect a lot of points, even if the game isn’t close. 51-31, UCF.
Listen to our latest podcast as we preview the Pirates with Bubba Rosenbaum of The Sports Objective:
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