Keys To Victory: Tulane-ECU

East Carolina wraps up a three-game road trip in New Orleans as the Pirates take on Conference-USA rival Tulane. Here are each team's keys to victory.

ECU

1. Establish the running game early: Ever since East Carolina's dominant win over North Carolina, the passing and running game have been relatively balanced. However, if Vintavious Cooper doesn't make it on the field in New Orleans, the Pirates may have a tougher time making the ground game have a presence. With Cooper out, sophomore Chris Hairston will assume the role and make his first collegiate start. Hairston proved he's capable, though. When Cooper left the game versus Middle Tennessee State last week, Hairston filled the void nicely with a 94-yard performance. ECU is deep at the running back position and should be able to find a way to make an impact with the rushing game.

2. Protect the ball: ECU's clock management on the final drive against Middle Tennessee State was crucial to the narrow 24-17 win. It almost didn't happen, though. The Pirates fumbled the ball twice on their last drive, but managed to recover both times. ECU also turned the ball over when Cooper fumbled the ball after the hit that took him out of the game. That fumble led to a field goal for the Blue Raiders. Tulane's defense isn't as physical, so the Pirates shouldn't fumble the ball as much, but they do have to worry about sophomore cornerback Lorenzo Doss. His four interceptions this season, two of which came last week versus North Texas, are a big reason for Tulane's conference leading 11 picks. Shane Carden needs to be extra careful when passing the ball to make avoid turning it over on an interception.

3. Stopping Tulane's passing game: ECU's secondary could have its hands full with quarterback Nick Montana and Tulane's passing game. Coming into this game, Montana has made 10 touchdown passes to just four interceptions. Senior wide receiver Ryan Grant has proven to be one of Montana's best targets. In 2012, he led Conference-USA in receiving yards per game (95.8). Grant has caught four of Montana's 10 touchdown passes and has totaled 40 receptions thus far. There's also the junior tandem of Xavier Rush and Justyn Shackleford that has combined for almost 300 receiving yards. That said, ECU's secondary performed well against Logan Kilgore and Middle Tennessee State last week. The deepest passes they allowed last week were a pair of 26-yard throws. Keeping Montana from making big plays deep, too, would slow Tulane's offense immensely.

Tulane

1. Take advantage of turnovers: Middle Tennessee State was able to milk three points from Cooper's first quarter fumble, but that's all the Pirates have given all season. When taking the field after a turnover, ECU's defense has yet to give up a touchdown. Tulane's defense may be able to pick off Carden's passes, but it won't do the Green Wave any good if they can't take advantage and score on those opportunities.

2. Protect Montana: Tulane has some pretty strong weapons downfield, but Montana often struggles to connect with them. Going into this game, Montana has completed just over 55 percent of his passes. Even though he manages to keep his interception total pretty low, it doesn't help much if he can't get the ball to guys like Grant and Rush. A lot of the reason for this is the protection, or often lack thereof, Montana gets from his offensive line. To put it in perspective, Montana has been sacked 20 times six games into the season. Last year, Green Wave quarterback Ryan Griffin was sacked 21 times throughout the whole season. By giving him better protection, the offensive line will allow Montana to take his time and make more accurate throws.

3. Third down efficiency: One of the biggest problems Tulane's offense has faced this season is its inability to convert on a third down. Through the first half of the season, the Green Wave has converted merely 34 of 94 third downs (16-42 at home). Because of this, Tulane often has to look beyond its offense for scoring. For example, Tulane only scored one offensive touchdown in last week's 24-21 win over North Texas. The Green Wave's special teams contributed with a blocked field goal and an interception—both of which were returned for touchdowns. Tulane needs to avoid getting stalled by ECU to win and maintain a perfect C-USA record.


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