After losing their last two games, the East Carolina Pirates will try to get back on the right track on Thursday night as they will host the South Florida Bulls.
After waiting hours to kick off because of a weather delay, ECU (3-4, 1-2 in AAC) lost in overtime to the Houston Cougars last week 31-24. Originally scheduled to kick off at 3 p.m. local time, the game was delayed after a brief start due to lightning and then delayed again for five hours because of more bad weather. It ended close to midnight.
Meanwhile, USF (2-5, 1-2) earned its first win over an FBS school in 728 days earlier that day when the Bulls defeated Temple 34-14 at home behind a school-record 421 yards.
South Florida has dominated the head-to-head series with East Carolina, winning nine of the 11 overall matchups. The Bulls also have yet to lose in Greenville (5-0). The Pirates did win last season's meeting, however, 44-24 down in Tampa.
South Florida (USF) at East Carolina
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: East Carolina -9.5
When South Florida Has the Ball
Even though the Bulls ran roughshod over Temple last Saturday, it's been a struggle on offense. Through seven games, South Florida is ranked near the bottom of the FBS in both scoring (23.9 ppg, 98th) and total (353.3 ypg, 99th) offense.
The Bulls' 526 total yards against the Owls bettered their previous season high by more than 100 yards (408 in 38-17 win over FCS Florida A&M on Sept. 18). Most of the damage came on the ground (421 rushing yards), with both Jaren Mangham (152 yds., 2 TDs) and Kelley Joiner Jr. (126, TD) going over 100 rushing yards.
They will look to continue that success against an East Carolina team that has been inconsistent stopping the run this season. The Pirates are sixth in the American Athletic Conference and 67th nationally in rushing defense at 149.4 yards per game. But against Houston, ECU held the Cougars to 87 total yards and only 2.4 yards per carry.
When East Carolina Has the Ball
There have been some good and some bad with quarterback Holton Ahlers this season. He is fourth in the conference in passing with 1,763 yards but only seventh in passer rating as he's tossed six interceptions to go with his 10 touchdowns.
Last week, Ahlers was solid, going 23-of-37 for 278 yards and two scores against Houston. However, that also was the first game the Pirates lost in which he didn't throw a pick. Four of his six have come in losses to Appalachian State, South Carolina, and UCF. It will be important for Ahlers to make the right decisions, especially going up against one of the worst defenses in the country.
Ever after holding Temple to a season-low 231 yards, South Florida is 122nd nationally in total defense at 464 yards per game. The Bulls have struggled against the run (201.4 ypg, 115th) and also have given up twice as many touchdown passes (16) compared to interceptions (eight).
So the ECU should have plenty of opportunities to move the ball and put some points on the scoreboard. It would help if the Pirates could get their running game going again. In back-to-back losses to UCF and Houston, ECU totaled 223 rushing yards, compared to the 166 they were averaging over the first five games.
This is a game between two teams that are still struggling to find an identity this late into the season. South Florida might have begun to find theirs last week by running for well over 400 yards against Temple.
However, the Bulls' defense has yet to stop anyone consistently, which is why it is tough to take USF on a short week on the road. East Carolina had a chance to beat both UCF and Houston in the last two games, but mistakes got in the way, and they up losing both by a combined 11 points.
As long as the Pirates can avoid mental errors and self-inflicted mistakes, they should be able to run the ball, which also should limit South Florida's opportunities to do the same. Whether it's on the ground or through the air, ECU should point more than enough points on the board to cruise to the victory at home to get back to .500 on the year.
Prediction: East Carolina 37, South Florida 23
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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.