ECU welcomes Tulsa on homecoming

With the first half of the season officially behind it, ECU will return home for a homecoming bout with the Tulsa Golden Hurricane Saturday at Noon.

The non-conference portion of the schedule is officially behind them, and now the East Carolina Pirates must shift their attention towards American Athletic Conference foe Tulsa.

The Golden Hurricane (3-2, 0-1 AAC) roll into Greenville for a homecoming matchup with the Pirates (3-3, 1-1 AAC), who are fresh off of a 45-38, last-minute loss to BYU. Tulsa, on the other hand, is just a week removed from a 10-point victory over Louisiana-Monroe.

Tulsa and ECU met last season in Oklahoma where the Pirates escaped with a 49-32 victory, led by Shane Carden’s five touchdown passes. Golden Hurricane signal caller Dane Evans countered Carden but the then-freshman quarterback was clearly outmatched.

This year, however, Evans has risen as the leader of the team thanks to his 10 touchdown passes and 61.9 completion percentage. With receivers like Keyarris Garrett, Josh Atkinson and Keevan Lucas all tallying over 400 receiving yards through the air Tulsa has created a formidable passing attack that currently ranks seventh in the nation with 367 passing yards per game.

“Dane has got size, a good arm, he’s mobile and has an accurate arm,” ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said. “He’s got another tall receiver in Keyarris Garrett. He really competes for the ball well.”

Tulsa head coach Phillip Montgomery, a former Baylor assistant, has brought a pass-heavy attack to the program. Evans, who started all 12 games as a freshman a season ago, has been his star disciple and the two have taken another step forward. Thanks to their leadership, the Golden Hurricane offense has ranked near the top in nearly all passing categories.

With a formidable passing attack facing it, ECU’s beleaguered secondary will have its back against the wall. Luckily, senior cornerback Rocco Scarfone has returned for the concussion that benched him against BYU last week. Fellow cornerback, freshman Corey Seargent, remains out and won’t play against Tulsa. Seargent has been one of ECU’s best corners this season but Scarfone’s return means Bobby Fulp can return back to his natural safety position.

Even with the return of Scarfone, Evans and his deep crop of wide outs look to have the edge against the Pirate secondary that was torched by BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum last Saturday.

“They’re a good, fast offense,” ECU sophomore linebacker Jordan Williams said. “(Dane Evans) is a great quarterback. He looks defenses off and makes big plays happen.”

Tulsa’s 36.6 points per game can be rightfully credited to the passing attack. However, the team has 1,001 yards rushing so far this season and 12 touchdowns, giving opposing defenses more problems than just covering receivers.

“They spread you out,” defensive coordinator Rick Smith said of Tulsa’s offense. “You have to fired up, ready to stop the run and then next thing you know it’s a pass. They have it all. They have just about everything that I can draw up and you hope that the kids see the call and execute.”

Zack Langer, despite splitting duties with D’Angelo Brewer, leads the pack with 520 yards through five games. His 3.9 yards per carry is the lowest among the Tulsa running backs but his 10 touchdowns ties him for the most on the team. His running ability surely helps take the pressure off of the Golden Hurricane passing attack.

On the season, Tulsa has scored just four more points than its opponents, perhaps serving as a testament to how poorly the defense has performed this season.

Defensively, the Golden Hurricane are allowing 35.8 points per game, nearly three more than ECU is averaging. Opposing offenses are averaging 553 yards per game against Tulsa and have only turned the ball over eight times so far this season.

ECU quarterbacks James Summers and Blake Kemp will likely have a chance to further their respective bids for the starting position and exploiting the Tulsa defense would be a step in the right direction.

“They have really good attitudes,” offensive coordinator Dave Nichol said of his signal callers. “They just want to go play. It’s expected of them and we’ll need it in different ways throughout the year.” Tulsa has just three players with 40 or more tackles so far this season. Senior safety Michael Mudoh has done his part with a team-leading 60 tackles, while junior linebackers Matt Linscott and Trent Martin have 47 and 41 tackles collectively with 15.5 combine tackles for a loss.

A homecoming victory would be a huge start to the second half of the season for ECU. With the long west coast road trips now behind them, the Pirates can focus on appeasing the Dowdy-Ficklen crowd, as four of their last six games are at home.

“I’m excited to get back here in Greenville and see our fans,” McNeill said. “I’ll tell you what though, we’ve had fans travel. We had a good contingent out there in Utah. I was proud of them. Our fans travel well, but there’s nothing like getting them in Dowdy-Ficklen at home.”

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