FACTS & STATS: Site: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (50,000) -- Greenville, North Carolina. Television: Fox Sports Net. Home Record: USM 0-2, ECU 2-1. Away Record: USM 0-3, ECU 2-1. Neutral Record: USM 0-0, ECU 0-0. Conference Record: USM 0-1, ECU 2-1. Series Record: Southern Miss leads, 27-11.
GAME NOTES: The East Carolina Pirates return home to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium after a tough ending to a three-game road trip, as they host the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in Conference USA action.
Southern Miss had a bye last week after suffering a heartbreaking, 24-23, loss to FIU in its C-USA opener. The Golden Eagles put themselves in position to win before Danny Acosta's potential game-winning field goal try was blocked on the final play of regulation. The loss was the 17th in a row for the Golden Eagles, making them the owner of the nation's longest active losing streak. The defeat also dropped coach Todd Monken to an 0-5 career record.
The hosts were in C-USA action last week in New Orleans and lost, 36-33, to Tulane in triple overtime after rallying late in regulation to force the extra session. East Carolina and the Green Wave traded touchdowns through the first two overtime periods, but Warren Harvey missed a 34-yard field goal attempt in the first part of the third overtime session which allowed Tulane to hand the Pirates their first C-USA loss of 2013. Coach Ruffin McNeal's team is now 2-1 in conference play which puts it in second place behind Marshall (2-0) in the East Division race.
This will be the 39th meeting in history between these schools, which began the rivalry in the 1951 campaign. USM holds a 27-11 all-time series lead versus ECU, but the Pirates have won three of the last four encounters. ECU left Hattiesburg with a 24-14 decision last season.
Southern Miss had its highest scoring output of the season against FIU its last time out, as it had yet to score more than 15 points in a game in its first four games of the season. Its scoring offense (12.2 ppg) ranks 120th out of 123 qualifying FBS teams, and its total offense (303.6 ypg) is only slightly better at 117th.
USM's inexperience on the offensive line has shown as it is producing only 75.6 rushing yards per game with a 2.8 average gain per carry. The team has not scored a rushing touchdown in five games and its season total of 378 yards rushing is less than half of its opposition's 1,005. As a result, the Golden Eagles' offense finds most of its success through the air, with Allan Bridgford throwing for 1,118 yards through the first five games. Bridgford converted 26-of-45 pass attempts for 243 yards and three touchdowns, but he was also picked off twice in USM's home loss to FIU. The signal caller's efficiency (six TDs against 11 INTs) has been lacking throughout the campaign.
USM was held to 314 yards of total offense and turned the ball over four times, while the Panthers amassed 341 offensive yards. The Golden Eagles lost despite holding FIU to only two third-down conversions on 14 plays. They moved the chains on 6-of-15 third-down chances.
Jalen Richard and Kendrick Hardy combined for 78 rushing yards on 21 attempts to pace USM's very ineffective running game. Hardy is 318 yards shy of becoming the 13th player in school history with 2,000 career rushing yards.
The Golden Eagles have held three of their five opponents under 25 points. Although the Panthers were one of those three, they had to be disappointed with their results against FIU, which came into their meeting ranked last among FBS schools in both scoring (5.8 ppg) and total offense (150 ypg). The Panthers amassed 341 yards of total offense and 24 points to boost their season averages and also managed to score on all four of their red zone trips (three TDs). USM has conceded an average of 37.2 points, despite having the second best pass defense in the conference (178.8 ypg). Sophomore defensive back DeBarriaus Miller anchors USM's defense with 43 tackles in addition to his one interception. Octavius Thomas has registered two of the team's six sacks.
USM will have its hands full with a pair of ECU players who put their names in the record books last week versus Tulane. Shane Carden amassed a school-record 480 passing yards and a touchdown on 41-of-55 efficiency, but also threw a pick and was sacked six times. Justin Hardy set a pair of school records with 17 catches and 230 receiving yards. Carden and Hardy form one of the most dangerous connections in the nation, which has given ECU the top passing offense in the conference at 338 yards per game. Hardy's career average of 7.2 catches per game is the third best among active players.
Senior Vintavious Cooper, who is ECU's first returning 1,000-yard rusher since 2004, is making progress on a repeat performance with a team-best 459 yards on 103 carries through six contests. Cooper registered 22 attempts en route to 87 yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns versus Tulane. The team amassed 543 yards of total offense and 31 first downs while holding the Green Wave to just 310 yards and 15 first downs. ECU had trouble finishing off drives as only two of its seven trips to the red zone resulted in touchdowns. It also went 4- of-16 on third-down conversion tries.
The Pirates' defensive unit did its job versus the Green Wave, which did not score an offensive touchdown in regulation. They rank third nationally in rush defense with only 81.3 allowed yards per game, but are near the bottom of the conference against the pass, allowing 279 per game. Damon Magazu recorded an interception in the second straight game last week. He is leading the team on the campaign with 39 total stops, while Derrel Johnson has proven himself as a relentless force with 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries.
The Pirates have plenty of motivation to get back on track and should fare much better with the support of the Dowdy-Ficken Stadium crowd. ECU still has a great chance of earning a spot in the C-USA Championship and will inch closer to that goal against a Golden Eagles' unit that has a long way to go before being a competitor within the conference once again.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 49, Southern Miss 10
Saturday, October 19, 12 p.m. (et)