FACTS & STATS: Site: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (50,000) -- Greenville, North Carolina. Television: Fox Sports Net. Home Record: Tulsa 1-3, ECU 3-1. Away Record: Tulsa 1-3, ECU 3-1. Neutral Record: Tulsa 0-0, ECU 0-0. Conference Record: Tulsa 1-3, ECU 4-1. Series Record: Series is tied, 5-5.
GAME NOTES: The Tulsa Golden Hurricane will try to pick up their first win in over a month as they visit Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for a Conference USA matchup with the East Carolina Pirates.
Last season, Tulsa had just two losses at this point in the season and it lost only once more before claiming the Conference USA championship and a bowl victory over Iowa State. Things have changed for coach Bill Blankenship's squad as it heads to Greenville on a two-game losing streak thanks to a 34-15 loss to Texas-San Antonio last week. The loss to the Roadrunners dropped the Golden Hurricane to a 2-6 overall record including a 1-3 mark in league play.
Despite recent results, East Carolina will not take Tulsa lightly as it tries to hang onto first place in the East division standings and improve upon its 4-1 league record. The Pirates became bowl eligible for the seventh time in the last eight years with a 34-13 rout at FIU last week. The victory was the second in a row for coach Ruffin McNeal's squad, which has also defeated its last seven visiting C-USA foes at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
This will be the first meeting between these schools since the 2010 campaign when the Pirates downed Tulsa, 51-49, in a shootout in Greenville. ECU and Tulsa have squared off 10 times before, with both sides winning five games apiece.
Tulsa's offensive play is the primary reason it is sitting just above the cellar in the C-USA standings, as it has averaged only 20.1 points and 370.2 yards of total offense per game. Senior quarterback Cody Green has experienced a drop in production from a season ago and passed for only 187.4 yards per game with seven touchdowns against six interceptions. After hitting on 11- of-17 attempts for just 46 yards and an interception last week versus UTSA, Blankenship benched his conference championship winning QB in favor of redshirt freshman Dane Evans, who went 12-of-22 for 159 yards and a score.
Due to the inadequate play at the quarterback position, none of Tulsa's wide receivers are on pace to reach 600 yards on the season. Tailback Trey Watts has reeled in a team-high total of 37 catches, although Jordan James has been more productive with 373 yards and two touchdowns on 29 grabs. Watts continued to be the lone bright spot for Tulsa's offense last week with 109 yards on 15 carries. The senior rusher is ranked third in the conference at 92.9 ypg and needs 263 more yards to reach the 1,000 yard mark.
Tulsa's defensive unit has let it down as well, ranking 11th in the league in red zone defense (90.9) with allowances of 393.1 total yards of offense and 31 points per outing. The Roadrunners had no trouble against the Golden Hurricane last week as they finished the game with 400 yards (286 rushing) of total offense on just 59 plays. Shawn Jackson had another strong showing with 11 total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. The poor performance has not been the fault of Jackson, who has made 50 solo stops this season with 10 TFL and three interceptions.
Tulsa will not have an easy time bouncing back against ECU, which owns the second most productive offense in the league with 36.8 points and 437.9 total yards of offense per outing. Shane Carden has become the leading passer in the C-USA across the board by completing 73.6 percent of his attempts for 2,589 yards and 19 touchdowns with only five interceptions. The Pirates relied heavily on Carden in the team's most recent outing versus FIU and although he didn't match his usual averages, his 264 yards and three TD passes on 23-of-35 efficiency was enough to keep the job done.
Justin Hardy has been a huge factor in the Pirates' passing offense, which ranks 10th in the nation with 335.1 yards per game. Hardy is leading the conference with averages of 9.6 receptions and 109.3 receiving yards per game. He has been on fire recently with 32 catches, 492 yards and two touchdown catches over his past three games. Hardy, who is on pace to shatter the school's single-season receiving yards record held by Dwayne Harris (1,123), has made at least three catches in all 31 games of his career.
Vintavious Cooper is the team's lead tailback in a running game that tends to become an afterthought. Cooper gained 48 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries last week in Miami and also scored on a touchdown catch.
McNeill's defensive unit is surrendering only 332.8 total yards per game, which is the lowest average in the C-USA. ECU is especially strong against the run as its opponents are netting just 2.6 yards per carry and 85.2 ypg on the ground, which gives it the third best rushing defense in the nation. The Pirates were surprisingly flimsy against a weak FIU offense during the middle portion of last week's contest, but they picked up down the stretch as Kyle Tudor anchored the unit with 10 tackles, while Montese Overton registered three sacks.
Since opposing offenses have had very little success against ECU on the ground this season, Tulsa will have to figure out a way to bolster its struggling pass attack to avoid another double-digit loss. The Golden Hurricane have one of the better pass defenses in the conference, but they haven't faced a gun slinger as efficient as Carden.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 38, Tulsa 17
Saturday, November 9, 3:45 p.m. (et)