East Carolina has made a living of upsetting schools in Power Five conferences in the last 20 years. No matter if it was Miami, North Carolina, Virginia Tech or NC State, the Pirates have always brought their best when they play teams they’re not expected to beat.
This weekend, the Pirates will face the second of three straight Power Five opponents on their 2016 schedule as they will travel to Columbia to play the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium. Last week, ECU held off NC State 33-30 to improve to 2-0 on the season. In Week 4, East Carolina will visit Virginia Tech in Blacksburg before beginning American Athletic Conference (AAC) play on Oct. 1 against UCF.
Unlike ECU, the Gamecocks had a rough time in their second game of the season. South Carolina lost to Mississippi State 27-14 in Starkville as Bulldogs' quarterback Nick Fitzgerald rushed for 195 yards and threw for two touchdowns.
South Carolina leads the all-time series against the Pirates as they hold a 13-5 advantage. Even though the Gamecocks have won the previous three meetings, the two schools have split the last 10 matchups.
East Carolina at South Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 17, 4 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: South Carolina -3
Three Things to Watch
1. East Carolina’s Offense
The catalyst for the East Carolina offense this season has been quarterback transfer Philip Nelson, who also has spent time at both Minnesota and Rutgers. In two games this season, Nelson has thrown for 695 yards and six touchdowns.
East Carolina likes to show a variety of offensive looks and will use running back James Summers in a number of different ways. He is averaging 8.5 yards per carry and had a 27-yard touchdown run against NC State last week.
The Gamecocks will have to be on alert to where Zay Jones is at all times. The All-AAC receiver has caught 17 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown thus far. South Carolina also will need to pay attention to Quan Johnson, who had 13 receptions against NC State.
2. South Carolina Defense
Last week against Mississippi State the Gamecocks gave up 485 yards with 290 of those coming on the ground. South Carolina’s tackling was less than stellar as Mississippi State scored 24 points before halftime.
Despite their struggles last week, East Carolina head coach Scottie Montgomery has a ton of respect for the South Carolina defense.
“They are extremely talented at the defensive line position,” Montgomery said. “They're anchored at linebacker by great players. (Chris) Lammons at corner presents a challenge for us because he can truly cover and he's physical. Usually, you get one — a cover guy that's not physical or a physical specimen that can't really stay close to receivers, so we'll be challenged at that position. I've got so much respect for Coach (Travaris) Robinson and Coach (Will) Muschamp. They've been doing it together a long time.”
While East Carolina doesn’t run the ball the way Mississippi State does, the Pirates love to throw the ball all over the field. South Carolina will be without defensive back Chaz Elder, who is out with a rib contusion. Junior college transfer Jamarcus King is set to make his first start in place of Elder.
3. East Carolina’s defense
East Carolina’s defense through two games has allowed an average of 18.5 points and 408.5 yards per game. Jordan Williams leads the Pirates in tackles with 13 while Yiannis Bowden has 3.5 tackles for a loss.
Against NC State last week, East Carolina surrendered 215 yards on the ground. Despite solid games from Williams and Demetri McGill, the Pirates will need to find a way to plug the holes and force the Gamecocks to throw the football.
This will be South Carolina’s home opener, so the 80,000 fans at Williams-Brice Stadium will be jacked up, which could put East Carolina at a disadvantage. The problem is, the Gamecocks lack the defensive talent to keep up with the Pirates' offense.
This could be a game where East Carolina relies a lot on James Summers and the running game. Look for the Pirates to take the crowd in the Columbia out of the game early. Then the Pirates will eventually wear down the short-handed Gamecocks defense with their passing game.
Prediction: East Carolina 38, South Carolina 24
— 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, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.