Last weekend, both the East Carolina Pirates and the Florida Gators had successful debuts to their 2015 season. The Pirates edged out the Towson Tigers 28-20 behind 154 yards and four rushing touchdowns by Chris Hairston. Florida had an easier time against the New Mexico State Aggies, cruising to a 61-13 win in head coach Jim McElwain’s first game as the Gators' head coach.
This will be the third meeting between East Carolina and Florida and the second this calendar year. In January, the Gators used a late turnover by Vernon Hargreaves III to secure a 28-20 victory in the Birmingham Bowl.
East Carolina at Florida
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Florida -13
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Grier and Treon Harris
In Week 1, Harris got the start against New Mexico State. This week, McElwain announced on Thursday that redshirt freshman Grier will start against East Carolina.
Both Harris and Grier saw extensive playing time against the Aggies last week and both quarterbacks could not have played any better. Harris started the game and ended up 14-for-19 passing for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Grier also had an impressive night as he was 15-of-17 for 164 yards and accounted for three scores.
"I thought both quarterbacks had moments that were really good," McElwain said in his press conference on Monday. “I thought Treon showed some escape-ability and created big plays down the field and extended plays. I think that's a real positive. I thought what Will did was come in with that two-minute drive right there before half, which actually was really big, and what I mean by that is we gave up a score and we answered. And what that shows me is a little bit of resolve.”
Even with Grier starting the game against the Pirates, McElwain said the team will use a similar rotation as they did last week. Against the Aggies, Harris played the first three series of the game before Grier came in.
2. Blake Kemp
The plan for East Carolina heading into the season was for Kurt Benkert to be the team’s starting quarterback. But that was before he suffered a season-ending knee injury a week before the opener against Towson. Head coach Ruffin McNeill then named junior college transfer Blake Kemp as the team’s starting quarterback
Kemp had an efficient game against Towson as he completed 29 of 37 passes for 239 yards. While he didn’t throw a touchdown, he also didn’t turn the ball over. This week, the Pirates will be lining up against one of the most talented defenses in the nation.
Last season, the Gators gave up 116.2 yards rushing per game, which was the 13th best in the nation. East Carolina ran the ball to a lot to take pressure off of Kemp, but the Pirates will have put the ball in the air if they are going to pull off the upset on the road.
3. Return of Alex McCalister and Marcus Maye
In their season-opening win against New Mexico State, the Gators were without their starting safety and arguably their best pass rusher. Both safety Marcus Maye and defensive end Alex McCalister were suspended because of an undisclosed violation of team rules. Getting both players back should make things that much tougher on East Carolina's offense.
In 2014, Maye started nine games, finishing third on the team in tackles with 62. McCalister recorded six sacks in 2014, which was second on the team only to Dante Fowler Jr. who was the third overall pick in the most recent NFL Draft.
Towson put up 416 yards of total offense against East Carolina last week. The Pirates will face a much bigger challenge against the QB combination of Harris and Grier running the spread offense. Demarcus Robinson, Brandon Powell and the rest of the Gators' pass catchers could have big games against a questionable East Carolina secondary.
With a young quarterback and inexperienced players at the skill position, it is going to be difficult for East Carolina to go into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and come out with a victory. Hairston was a primary reason for the Pirates' eight-point victory last week, but the Gators are going to force Kemp to beat them with his arm.
Florida’s secondary with Hargreaves, Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson are as talented as defensive backfields come. That along with the Gators' deep defensive line should be one of the major differences in the game.
Prediction: Florida 48, East Carolina 21
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.