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South Carolina vs. East Carolina Football Prediction and Preview

Holton Ahlers, East Carolina Pirates Football

Holton Ahlers and the Pirates look to upset the visiting Gamecocks on Saturday

Week 1 of the college football season brought different results for both South Carolina and East Carolina.

In Shane Beamer's debut as the Gamecocks head coach, South Carolina (1-0, 0-0 SEC) blanked FCS Eastern Illinois 46-0. The Gamecocks blocked two punts and registered a defensive score in the easy victory.

ECU (0-1, 0-0 American) got off to an early 6-0 start against Appalachian State at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. However, the Pirates only scored 13 points the rest of the way as Appalachian State won 33-19.

Saturday will be the 20th all-time meeting between the Gamecocks and the Pirates, with South Carolina holding a 14-5 edge. The Gamecocks also won the most recent meeting, beating the Pirates 20-15 in 2016.

South Carolina at East Carolina

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 11 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN2
Spread: South Carolina -2

When South Carolina Has the Ball

In the season opener, the Gamecocks relied on their running attack to blow out Eastern Illinois. South Carolina piled up 244 rushing yards on 5.1 yards per carry.

ZaQuandre White had 12 carries for 133 yards and a touchdown. He also recorded four catches, including a 10-yard touchdown before halftime. Kevin Harris, who was second in the SEC with 1,138 rushing yards last season, sat out the win over the Panthers but is expected to make his season debut against East Carolina.

Graduate assistant-turned-starting quarterback Zeb Noland put up 121 passing yards with four touchdowns. Noland, who started his career at Iowa State before transferring to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State in 2019, joined South Carolina in May as a graduate assistant for the offense. But after injuries decimated the quarterback position, the Watkinsville, Georgia, native was activated to the playing roster midway through fall camp, using his sixth and final year of eligibility.

As interesting as Noland's journey is, Luke Doty is expected to reclaim the starting job after missing last week's game because of a foot injury. The sophomore started the final two games last season and can make plays with both his arm and legs.

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"They have a very good athletes at all the stand-up skill positions on both offense and defense," ECU head coach Mike Houston said about the Gamecocks. "They did not have (Kevin) Harris last Saturday night, he will play against us this Saturday and he was, I think, the leading rusher in the Southeastern Conference last year, so obviously a great offensive player there. Their personnel is very good, and I think that it was as good of a showing by them last Saturday night."

When East Carolina Has the Ball

The success of the Pirates on Saturday will likely be determined via the arm of quarterback Holton Ahlers. Last season, Ahlers passed for 240.1 yards per game. In the loss against Appalachian State, he threw for 295 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.

ECU will need to get the running game going against South Carolina after managing just 86 rushing yards against Appalachian State. Keaton Mitchell was responsible for 50 of those yards while adding another 80 yards and a touchdown on six catches.

Houston says he believes in running backs that can be versatile in the Pirates' offense.

"The old adage is to be a better player without the ball than you are with the ball. That's really the key to becoming a top-end player. Rahjai (Harris) and Keaton (Mitchell) both had one busted protection, but you know having one busted protection, that's two pressures on our quarterback. Their number one thing is to take care of the football and take care of the quarterback. That's kind of their motto in that room. They take a lot of pride in that."

Final Analysis

Against the Mountaineers, the Pirates were outgained 485-381 and also lost the time of the possession battle (31:55 to 27:05). Playing at home should give ECU a bit of an advantage against a South Carolina team that played one of the worst teams in the FCS last Saturday.

Harris will return for the Gamecocks, and the Pirates will need to tighten up their run defense. Appalachian State picked up 226 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, averaging a robust 6.3 yards per carry. If ECU can cut that number in half and force South Carolina to throw the ball, the Pirates will have a chance to pull off the upset.

In a game with two teams trying to return to prominence, this one could come down to the wire, especially with the way ECU can score points.

Prediction: East Carolina 31, South Carolina 28

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— 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.