Countdown to kickoff: Tulsa

East Carolina won bowl eligibility in Miami last week and now the Pirates set their sights on the Conference-USA Championship.

A week after becoming bowl eligible with a 34-13 win over Florida International, East Carolina (6-2, 4-1 C-USA) returns home to host Tulsa (2-6, 1-3 C-USA). With one preseason goal checked off, the Pirates now set their sights on the Conference-USA Championship.

ECU and Tulsa have split their meetings 5-5, with ECU taking the last three. The Pirates and Golden Hurricane last met in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in 2010 in what was a closely contested game. In the end, though, ECU claimed a 51-49 victory.

That last game was one of two games ECU scored more than 50 points. Already this season, the Pirates have passed that threshold three time, which has put them at 31st in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) with 36.8 points per game. Tulsa's defense, on the other hand, has allowed an average of just over 30 points per game.

Despite injuries and suspensions claiming key players, ECU's offense has continued to be a force. Justin Hardy has stepped up as one of the most consistent aspects of the offense while younger players have taken advantage of the opportunity to make an impact.

Hardy was quite the spectacle against FIU. Not only did he throw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Jones, but he also caught his 22nd career touchdown—tying Lance Lewis for the school record.

Jones has stepped up in the absence of fellow true freshman Davon Grayson, who is out for the season. He led the team with nine receptions, so it's pretty clear he was Shane Carden's favorite target.

Some kids can understand a part of a concept and some kids get the entire concept of what we're trying to do offensively," said head coach Ruffin McNeill. "Isaiah sees the whole concept, which makes it easy for him."

ECU's offense will have its hands full with Tulsa's defense, though. Tulsa is returning five starters on defense from its championship team, including linebacker Shawn Jackson. Jackson has 74 tackles on the season so far and three interceptions.

Special teams didn't shine like the offense last week. Placekicker Warren Harvey was unable to nail home either of his two field goal attempts against FIU and even missed his first extra point of his collegiate career. Because of that, special teams coordinator has opened competition between Harvey and sophomore Davis Plowman.

"Just like you do with every position, you're always in competition and that's where we are right now," said Doll. "Whoever is going to help our football team is going to be our kicker."

Tulsa placekicker Carl Salazar hasn't attempted as many kicks, but he's demonstrated a bit more consistency. Salazar has made 11 of 14 field goal attempts and has accrued the Golden Hurricane 49 points.

Tulsa only has two wins on the season, but the reigning C-USA Champions are never an easy game. "I know they play extremely hard on film," said McNeill. "Coach Blankenship has his systems in place and he understands how to do it."

The Golden Hurricane employ a hurry-up offense and focus on spreading the defense. The Pirates may actually welcome this offensive strategy. They seemed to struggle against FIU's slow offense managing the clock.

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