Tigers to duel with Pirates
Wide receiver Daniel Hurd attempts to juke past defenders in last season’s 35-17 loss to East Carolina. Photo By David C. Minkin | special to the daily helmsman
It is almost Saturday and though most Tiger fans would like to stay in the reality of last week's win over Rice, the University of Memphis football team is adventuring to Greensboro, NC on a treasure hunt to dig up another win against the East Carolina Pirates.
The Pirates (3-3, 2-1 Conference USA) are a familiar foe for the Tigers (1-4, 1-0 C-USA). This will be the 21st meeting between the teams, with East Carolina holding a 14-6 series lead. The Pirates scored a 35-17 win at the Liberty Bowl last season for their sixth consecutive win over the Tigers.
"Obviously, we're traveling to East Carolina," Fuente said. "Coach [Ruffin] McNeill has done a great job there. They are pretty special football players. They're athletic, hard-nosed and tough."
For Memphis to leave Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with their second consecutive win, the defense will need to build off of last week's inspired performance. Against a Rice offense that came in averaging 445 yards per game, the Tigers held the Owls to a season low 221 yards.
The defense looks to duplicate that effort against a Pirate offense that ranks 59th in the country in passing. Quarterback Shane Carden acts as the field general for the Pirates. He has thrown for 991 yards (165.2 per game) and four touchdowns on the season.
"Offensively, [the Pirates are] maybe as skilled as any [team] that we've faced this year," Fuente said. "We'll certainly have our work cut out for us."
Carden's go-to receiver is Justin Hardy, who has 34 percent of ECU's receiving yards. Hardy has hauled in 39 catches for 480 yards, five touchdowns and 12.3 yards per reception. No other receiver has caught more than 20 balls on the season.
Carden is not a threat on the ground, so getting pressure on the quarterback could force the Pirates to go to the ground where they struggle.
Running back Vintavious Cooper heads the rushing attack for the Pirates. Though he is at the top of the team in rushing, he has amassed just 362 yards through six games for an average of 60.3 yards a game. The Pirates have scored six times on the ground. Memphis allowed 104 rushing yards to Rice, a sign that the defensive front is coming together.
Like the Tigers, ECU has given up a lot of yards through the air. Their pass defense ranks 102nd in the nation. Memphis ranks 114th in passing. Junior quarterback Jacob Karam has continued to develop with each game, but the key will be the offensive line and whether they can give him more time in the pocket.
The strength of the Pirate defense is up front, where they rank third in C-USA and 48th nationally in rush defense, giving up 131.3 ypg. Linebacker Jeremy Grove anchors the front of the defense. On the season, he has made a team-high 42 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. The Pirates also have 10 players who have recorded a sack.
"Defensively and schematically, they're very similar to the defense we play," Fuente said. "The strength of their defense without a doubt is their front seven."
With last week's win, the Tigers are carrying some momentum into Saturday's contest against the Pirates.
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