Countdown to kickoff: Florida International

ECU looks to become bowl eligible for the seventh time in eight seasons against FlU in Miami Saturday.

Following its second open date of the season, the East Carolina football (5-2, 3-1 C-USA) team returns to action Saturday evening when it faces a struggling Florida International (1-6, 1-2 C-USA) team in Miami, Fla.

Despite the luxury of having another week off, the Pirates are seemingly more beat up then they were going into the bye.

Back-up quarterback Cody Keith was ruled out for the remainder of the season due to an elbow injury on his right throwing arm and senior offensive tackle Adhem Elsawi is questionable to play Saturday with a right eye injury.

In Elsawi's place, insert 6-foot-5, 325 pound sophomore Tre Robertson, who is expected to make his first collegiate start. Although Robinson lacks experience, ECU coach Ruffin McNeill does not expect to see a drop-off in the offensive line's productivity. Rather, he sees it as yet another chance for a player to step up and capitalize on an opportunity.

"Tre has been exposed to our offense and has a good understanding of what we want, offensively," McNeill told reporters. "You can't replace Adhem (Elsawi) and what he brings to the table leadership-wise and experience-wise, but I expect Tre to play every well on Saturday."

Since ECU's last game against Southern Miss was well-decided early on, Robertson was able to get some reps under his belt. Keith also came in and led a pair of scoring drives, but he had a lingering pain in his elbow that got continually worse as the season went on. Since he is just a sophomore, the decision was made to shut him down this season.

Shane Carden's new backup quarterback is true freshman Kurt Benkert, who was a decorated recruit out of Cape Coral, Fla. The plan all along has been to tag the Pirates' promising quarterback of the future with a red-shirt this season, but McNeill said following Wednesday's practice that his plan could be change.

Similar to the lop-sided win in its last outing, ECU enters the game as a three-touchdown favorite against FIU despite the game being on the road. Remember, the Golden Panthers lone win was a narrow, 24-23, result at Southern Miss. Leading up to that game on Oct. 5, FIU was listed a double-figure underdog.

Let's dive deeper into the numbers. It would be an understatement to say the Golden Panthers simply struggled offensively. They rank 114th in FBS in passing offense (145 yards per game), 121st in rushing (74 YPG) and scoring (11.1 points per game). It does not get much better on defense. FIU is 113th in America in overall defense by allowing an average of 37.1 points per game.

So clearly, it appears ECU will have a substantial edge in talent when it takes the field on Saturday. Even though that may be true, the Pirates are treating FIU just like any other opponent.

"If you can get the team to grasp their vision, goals, what we've decided on as a group, and if they're all in, then they don't lose sight of that," said McNeill.

This will be the first ever meeting between FIU and ECU and might be the last one with the Pirates leaving for the American Athletic Conference in 2014. If ECU was to win Saturday's game, it would become bowl eligible for the seventh time in eight seasons.

"It's very important for us to be bowl eligible," said McNeill. "We've missed it one time since I've been here, but I haven't missed it many times during my coaching years, personally, but more it's more important for the team and the university."

Kickoff time is set for 6 p.m.

Prediction: East Carolina: 45 , Florida International: 13

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