East Carolina makes the trek to Cincinnati, Ohio to for a Thursday-night clash with the Bearcats. The two sides will meet—this time as American Athletic Conference opponents—for the first time since September 1, 2003.
There are a lot of similarities between the two teams. Both ECU (6-2, 3-1 AAC) and Cincinnati (5-3, 3-1 AAC) will be hoping to pull away from the three-way tie for second place in the conference standings.
The Pirates and Bearcats also run similar offenses. Gunner Kiel will quarterback Cincinnati. He’s thrown for just north of 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. He likes to spread the ball among his receivers, much like Shane Carden, and has three that have more than 400 receiving yards on the season.
“I think it’s the best offense we’ve seen to this point,” said defensive coordinator Rick Smith. “It’s going to be a challenge for the front four to get pressure on the quarterback and affect him. At the same time, our linebackers have to be where they’re supposed to be and the secondary’s got to keep the ball in front of them.”
ECU’s secondary will be tasked with defending bigger receivers than they may be used to. MeKale McKay stands at 6-foot-6, which should present challenges for the 5-foot-10 Josh Hawkins and six-foot Detric Allen.
Even with the length mismatch, the Pirate defense is confident. With how similar Cincinnati’s offense is to the offense the defense practices against, the Pirates feel prepared.
“Going against some of our wide receivers, they aren’t as tall as them, but they’re just as physical as their wide receivers,” said Hawkins. “Going against 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-6 wide receivers shouldn’t be a problem. We’ve got to watch for the fades, watch for the posts and watch for the double moves, also.”
Hawkins is coming off a frustrating performance in ECU’s 20-10 loss at Temple. The defense was unable to come up with any of the four balls the Owls lost. Hawkins also took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he confronted an official about a questionable pass interference call.
The Pirate offense is looking to bounce back during its trip to Ohio. Carden and company outgained Temple 428-135, but couldn’t convert. Poor ball security led to five fumbles and Temple scored all its points off of those turnovers.
Running back Breon Allen will be hoping to get the run game going early. After being responsible for a pair of turnovers, he’ll be playing with a bit of chip on his shoulder.
“We’ve just got to do what we do,” said Allen. “They have a great defense and a great interior, awesome linebackers and secondary. Overall, they’re a great defense and we’ll be looking for that test.”
The team stresses that it’s over the loss in Philadelphia nearly two weeks ago. As one of the team’s leaders, Carden addressed the team briefly after the game. Per head coach Ruffin McNeill’s 24-hour rule, the team was encouraged to get away from the game and move past it by the following day.
Even so, the Bearcats can present similar challenges. After only forcing only six turnovers in their first five games, they’ve forced nine in their last three outings. Also, ECU may struggle to convert on scoring opportunities as Cincinnati is ranked sixth overall in red zone defense.
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. in Paul Brown Stadium. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN2.