Mike Price's Miners enter Saturday's game 1-3 (0-0 C-USA) after losing to Wisconsin 36-27 in what was a very competitive football game in Madison. UTEP also hosted perennial powerhouse Oklahoma in their season opener and nearly won, trailing 10-7 in the fourth quarter but eventually falling 24-7. The Pirates will be keeping an eye out for senior quarterback Nick Lamaison, who is very mobile and tough to stop when running the I-Back Offense. On the ground, the Miners are led by sophomore tailback Nathan Jeffrey, who is averaging 6.4 yards per rush so far this season. In the passing game, senior wide receiver Michael Edwards is the go-to man, providing explosive speed in both the receiving and kick-return game.
After a three game road trip that saw the Pirates go 1-2, ECU (2-2, 1-0 C-USA) looks to stay undefeated in Conference USA play on their home field. Last weekend, the offense couldn't find the endzone but offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley is confident that will change this weekend. "We're so close to putting it together", said Riley, "it's agonizing". He went on to say that he was pleased with the way his offense ran the ball last Saturday, rushing for 109 yards after factoring loss yardage from sacks. Vintavious Cooper has led the Pirates in rushing in each of the last three games and will be a key player in keeping the offense balanced. Sophomore quarterback Shane Carden will be making his first career start in front of the Pirate Nation at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. "I'm pumped," said Carden, "I've been to a few football stadiums but there is really nothing like playing here."
On defense, the name of the game is execution. Missed tackles turned out to be the defense's Achilles heel against the Tarheels. "We made a lot of mental mistakes," said junior safety Damon Magazu, "we're really stressing (tackling) this week." Two North Carolina touchdowns were direct results of missed tackles last weekend.
Keys to the Game:
1. Force Lamaison to win the game with his arm- With the mobility of senior quarterback Nick Lamaison, it is paramount that the Pirates defense keep him in the pocket and not allow him to make big plays with his legs. In addition, ECU's run defense must contain tailback Nathan Jeffrey and try to make the Miners one dimensional.
2. Convert on third down- Last weekend in Chapel Hill, the defense founds itself on the field too often and it began to take a toll on them. The offense went 5 for 16 on third down in the game, which needs to be improved upon in able to continue drives and keep the defense off the field.
3. Protect the quarterback- With a young quarterback, who is only making his third career start, under center for the Pirates, it is imperative that they keep him upright and give him time to pass. The Pirates offensive line allowed seven sacks in their last game after only previously allowing three combined in their first three games. If given time, Carden has the ability and the weapons to pick apart UTEP's secondary.
When it's all said and done, I think the Pirates bounce back again and get back in the win column in front of their home crowd.
Prediction: East Carolina- 24, UTEP-21.