The Cincinnati Bearcats will hope that any bad luck that may arise on Friday the 13th won't prevent them from remaining unbeaten in 2020 when they host the East Carolina Pirates. The Pirates have struggled mightily throughout the season, though their only win in 2020 (at South Florida on Oct. 10) did come on the road.
The Pirates have lost each of its last three games after the win over USF, with the first two coming by just four points apiece before East Carolina fell 38-21 last week against Tulane. The two sides were even at 7-7 after a quarter, but the Green Wave scored 24 unanswered points in the second and third quarters to take control.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, continued its dominance to begin the 2020 campaign with a 38-10 win over Houston. That marked the third straight game in which the Bearcats scored 30 or more points, as they've tallied at least 24 in each of their six games this season.
Cincinnati trails 13-10 in the all-time series against East Carolina but has won five of the last six meetings. The Pirates claimed each of the first seven matchups from 1986-92, but the Bearcats have had the upper hand as of late, including a 46-43 win in Greenville last season following a dominant 56-6 performance in 2018.
East Carolina at No. 7 Cincinnati
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 13 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Cincinnati -27.5
When East Carolina Has the Ball
Offense hasn't really been the problem of late for East Carolina, as the Pirates have averaged 29.5 points per game over the last four games. Holton Ahlers has completed 65 of 93 passes in the last two games since missing the Navy game after testing positive for COVID-19. Against Tulane, he was 27-of-43 for 351 yards, throwing for three touchdowns and no interceptions, his second such game of 2020.
With Ahlers directing traffic through the air as the Pirates spent much of the game playing from behind, the run game was largely nonexistent against the Green Wave. East Carolina rushed for just 33 yards, with Rahjai Harris held to just 27 yards on 13 carries after eclipsing the century mark in each of the previous three games. Blake Proehl had a monster receiving day against Tulane, catching 13 passes for a career-high 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns, his second career multi-touchdown effort and first of 2020.
Cincinnati's defense remains a fixture atop the AAC and among the nation's best across the board. The Bearcats rank fifth in the FBS in scoring defense (11.7 ppg), as well as 10th in rushing defense (96.3 ypg) and tackles for loss per game (8.5), all of which lead the AAC. Cincinnati also has tallied nine interceptions in 2020, tops in the AAC and the seventh-best mark nationally, with interceptions in three of the last four games, including five against South Florida alone.
When Cincinnati Has the Ball
Quarterback Desmond Ridder had another solid game in the win over Houston, once again making an impact both through the air and on the ground. Ridder backed up his five-touchdown performance (three passing, two rushing) against Memphis with four more against Houston, with just one passing touchdown but three rushing scores while totaling just 265 total yards (162 passing, 103 rushing). Including the Oct. 24 game against SMU (a 42-13 Cincinnati win), Ridder has 13 touchdowns in the last three weeks, with five passing touchdowns and eight more on the ground.
Ridder (12 carries, 103 yards, TD) wasn't the only Bearcat with a great rushing day against Houston. Running back Gerrid Doaks ran for a career-high 184 yards on 16 carries, adding the Bearcats' only other touchdown of the game. Though nobody had a particularly big game on the receiving side, nine different Bearcats hauled in at least one pass. Michael Young Jr. led the way with 47 yards on four catches, while Josh Whyle (five receptions, 38 yards) brought in Ridder's lone passing touchdown of the game.
East Carolina enters Friday night's game having allowed 37.2 points per game in 2020, which is a marginal improvement after the Pirates allowed over 41 points per game in the first three weeks. Opponents average 459.0 yards of offense per game against East Carolina this season, including 217.2 yards rushing, which is the second-worst mark in the AAC.
East Carolina has remained competitive in its losses — especially to Navy and Tulsa — but couldn't find a way to crack the win column in those close games and is winless since Oct. 10. Add to that the tremendous success with which Cincinnati has begun the 2020 season, and the Bearcats should have little trouble moving to 7-0 and continuing its quest for a top-5 ranking.
Prediction: Cincinnati 45, East Carolina 20
Podcast: Week 11 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
(Desmond Ridder photo courtesy of Cincinnati Athletics)