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East Carolina Pirates vs. BYU Cougars Preview and Prediction

Tanner Mangum

Tanner Mangum

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If you wanted to describe this game between BYU and East Carolina, I’d probably turn to a popular term from the young people on Twitter, low-key awesome.

Will it be lit though? Okay, I’ll stop with all the Twitter and Vine jargon, but while this ECU vs. BYU game might be buried on the national radar, it also has the makings of being a fun game between two teams that feel confident they can put up a lot of points.

Both ECU and BYU have played tough schedules thus far, BYU in fact, has played the country’s toughest slate in the country through five weeks according to the Sagarin Rankings.

East Carolina at BYU

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPNU

Spread: BYU -8

Three Things to Watch

1. Which defense will step up?

In the summer of 2014, East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill and his staff travelled out to Provo to learn from Bronco Mendenhall and his staff on how to run the 3-4 defense. McNeill and his program have been using the 3-4 scheme ever since.

Both teams want to create a lot of pressure with their linebackers, a position both teams feel is a strength in their programs. The stats aren’t too favorable, however, for both the Cougars and the Pirates on the defensive end so far, as both have had their struggles at time this year.

In terms of total defense, BYU ranks 63rd, and ECU is lower at No. 86.

This game has the makings of a good, old-fashioned shootout. Which defense will get the necessary three-and-outs to keep their explosive offenses on the field?

BYU will have a tall order on third down as the Pirates are tops in the country with a 55 percent conversion rate.

2. Which quarterback will play for East Carolina?

Back in August the Pirates’ starter at quarterback was Kurt Benkert until he suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice.

Blake Kemp stepped in for Benkert and is your prototypical drop-back passing quarterback. Kemp led Pirates to a near upset in The Swamp against Florida in week two, but turnovers have been a problem at times for Kemp. This has led to ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill to turn to junior college transfer James Summers, who was expected to be a wide receiver for the Pirates when he signed back in February.

Summers came in against Virginia Tech and led the Pirates to an upset over the Hokies, and then one week later came off the bench again to reel off 42 unanswered points against SMU in a come-from-behind victory.

This week’s depth chart for ECU has Kemp OR Summers starting. Have to think Summers ultimately gets the start here as the Pirates will likely ride the hot hand that gives them the most versatility in their offense.

3. BYU’s new rushing attack

The Cougars’ ground game has gone through a lot of different faces this season. Three-year starter Jamaal Williams was lost for the season when he withdrew from school before camp started, and then BYU has had a laundry list of injuries to its rushers. Senior Adam Hine, who had a breakout game against UCLA, suffered an ankle injury against Michigan and is out for a month.

True freshman Francis Bernard, who was out with a hand injury the first three weeks of the season, made a name for himself last week to help BYU beat UConn, rushing for 69 yards.

Expect Bernard and Algie Brown, who came back from an injury last week to rush for 95 yards, to get 20 to 25 carries between the two of them as BYU looks to have balance on offense.

Final Analysis

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This should be a fun football game. I’m expecting a lot of points to be put up, and it could be one of those games that goes down to the final possession, which is probably all smiles for BYU, which has come through in the clutch on two Hail Marys this season.

One of BYU’s goals this year is to go undefeated at home, something the Cougars haven’t done since 2008. I’d expect BYU’s defense to win the turnover battle by forcing a mistake or two that will lead to short field situations for Tanner Mangum and the Cougar offense. BYU squeaks out a win that will end up being one of the week’s best games by the time Sunday morning comes around.

Prediction: BYU 44, East Carolina 28

— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.