Countdown to kickoff: FAU

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- With the national spotlight fixed on Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Thursday night, ECU hosts the Florida Atlantic Owls.

The East Carolina football team (1-0) will begin its last Conference USA slate when it welcomes the Florida Atlantic Owls (0-1) into Dowdy Ficklen Stadium Thursday night for the schools' first ever meeting.

After years of message board talk and unfulfilled rumors regarding the Pirates possibly wearing a black-uniform, ECU finally complied to its fan-base and will dress in all-black threads under the lights.

Only five days since outlasting Old Dominion, 52-38, in its season opener, ECU looks to start 2-0 for the first time since 2010 and head into its showdown with Virginia Tech with a full head of steam.

Standing in their way is a FAU team that was beaten decisively by the Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes, 34-6, last Friday. Fortunately for the Owls, they will return five of its players from one-game suspensions, including starting receiver Daniel McKinney and tight end Darion Howard.

JUCO transfer Jaquez Johnson will get the bulk of the playing time at quarterback, while freshman Greg Hankerson is expected to appear as well. Their No. 1 target is undoubtedly William Dukes, who was named onto the Biletnikoff Award Watch List, which is awarded annually to the nation's top wide receiver.

In addition to the group of players returning from suspension, starting nickel-back Cre'von LeBlanc was cleared to play earlier this week. Meanwhile, the statuses of defensive end Martin Wright and free safety Winfred Strickland remain uncertain and are listed as questionable for the game.

Despite allowing just 200 passing yards to Heisman hopeful Stephen Morris, FAU really struggled stopping the run – The Hurricanes rushed for 303 yards behind tailback Duke Johnson.

In their win against ODU, Pirates quarterback Shane Carden attempted 54 passes (46-for-54) on his way to breaking his own school passing record with 447 yards and five touchdowns, while only rushing the ball 22 times for 34 yards.

"I think it dictates what the opponent is doing most of the time," said Head Coach Ruffin McNeill when asked whether the offense would be more balanced against FAU, "" Having the ability to do both (pass and run) is important when it's all said and done. If they are giving you things, you have to be able to take advantage them."

More than a third of Carden's completions were to inside receiver Justin Hardy, who hauled in 16 receptions for 191 yards. Also, a pair of true freshmen emerged in their first collegiate games. Isaiah Jones and Davon Grayson combined for four touchdown grabs, with Grayson collecting three of them.

The matchup between ECU's wide receivers and FAU's defensive backfield is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing battles that take place on Thursday night.

"Miami's a fast football team and I saw FAU match up with them," said McNeill. "We have to make sure we do a good job with execution, playing fast, continuing our fast pace."

An often times forgotten factor in the outcomes of games is penalties. And uncharacteristic of the Pirates, they committed nine for 85 yards, which cannot happen if they plan on defeating higher-profile opponents.

Prediction: East Carolina: 34, Florida Atlantic: 17

Despite playing a stiffer defensive unit, I don't see any way the Pirates allow the Owls to knock them off on a national stage, inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with the added energy in the building that comes with black uniforms.

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