Countdown to kickoff: Middle Tennessee State

ECU travels outside the state of North Carolina for the first time this season when they face new C-USA member Middle Tennessee State.

A week removed from its decisive, 55-31, win in Chapel Hill, the East Carolina football team (3-1, 1-0 C-USA) looks to avoid a letdown against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (3-2, 1-0 C-USA).

Saturday's game in Murfreesboro, Tenn., will mark the schools' first meeting in football and for ECU, its first game played outside the state of North Carolina this season.

Middle Tennessee State was one of C-USA's eight additions in July and dresses an experienced team – returning 16 starters from last season's 8-5 squad – that expects to compete immediately in the East Division.

Similar to ECU, the Blue Raiders' strength is their up-tempo, spread offense that is led by sophomore tailback Jordan Parker.

On the ground alone, Middle Tennessee State has averaged 181 yards per game with Parker having rushed for 480 yards (96.0 YPG) and four touchdowns. Although, his carries are few and far between, Reggie Wheatley has proven to be a capable backup to spell Parker when needed.

A key match-up on Saturday will be between the Blue Raiders' rushing attack and ECU's fifth ranked rushing defense. A unit that has continually improved game-by-game under first-year defensive coordinator Rick Smith.

Senior quarterback Logan Kilgore has struggled up to this point in the season. He has thrown six interceptions to just five touchdown passes, but has shown some flashes of being a solid passer.

"It starts in the middle with [quarterback] Logan Kilgore," Head Coach Ruffin McNeill said at his weekly press conference. "He's a great general for their offense and reminds me a little of Taylor Heinicke from Old Dominion," who put up nearly 400 yards of offense and four touchdowns against ECU on Aug. 31.

Kilgore's success is due in large part to the weapons he has out-wide. Senior Tavarres Jefferson leads the receiving corps with 22 receptions, while fellow senior Kyle Griswould isn't too far behind with 16 and a pair of touchdowns.

Middle Tennessee State and ECU have already shared two common opponents this season, Florida Atlantic and North Carolina.

The Blue Raiders had to play both of the games on the road and went 1-1, consisting of a lop-sided loss in Chapel Hill, 40-20, and a narrowly-decided, 42-35, against the Owls in overtime.

The Pirates didn't have any problems taking care of both the Tar Heels and Owls. ECU defeated them by an average of 21 points.

Although, it can be easy to play the comparison game and think the Pirates have a substantial edge in this game,McNeill has emphasized to his team to avoid any buzz that comes from outside the locker room, good or bad.

"Of course with the emotion of the game last week will take over, but from day one, it's not about what we do, but how we do it," he said. "The thing I've asked them to do … and it's hard because I can't guard them 24 hours a day is to drown out the noise."

It appears the Pirates will be without last season's leading tackler Jeremy Grove for the third consecutive game with a chest injury. But the theme for this ECU defense has been "the next man up" and having seemingly a new player step up each week.

Most notably, it was Chrishon Rose and true freshman Demetri McGill stepping in for suspended nose tackle Terry Williams last week in Chapel Hill. Also, while cornerback Josh Hawkins was being eased back after suffering a concussion, junior Detric Allen stepped in nicey and has been rewarded. He will start against Saturday against Middle Tennessee State.

"Detric Allen made some plays that I didn't think he would make (against North Carolina)," said Smith. "I'm just amazed at how much better (the secondary has) gotten. They're really listening and trying to do it the right way. I think before this thing's over with, we'll have a pretty good secondary.

Following his six-touchdown performance (three passing, three rushing) in which he threw for 376 yards, ECU quarterback Shane Carden was awarded C-USA's player of the week and the Capital One Cup's Impact Performance of the Week.

Kick-off time from Johnny "Red" Floyd Stadium is set for 3:30 p.m and will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net and the Pirate IMG Sports Network.

Prediction: East Carolina: 31, Middle Tennessee State: 24


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