East Carolina (8-2) at NC State (3-7)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 23, 12:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Carter-Finley Stadium (57,583) -- Raleigh, North Carolina. Television: ACC Network. Home Record: ECU 5-1, NCST 3-3. Away Record: ECU 3-1, NCST 0-4. Neutral Record: ECU 0-0, NCST 0-0. Conference Record: ECU 6-1, NCST 0-7. Series Record: NC State leads, 16-11.
GAME NOTES: The East Carolina Pirates take aim at their first five-game winning streak since 1999 as they take a step out of Conference USA action to visit the ACC's NC State Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium.
The Pirates coasted to a 63-14 rout over UAB last week in their final home game of the season to maintain their position atop the C-USA East Division standings. ECU's victory set up a show down with Marshall next week for the divisional title and a berth in the C-USA Championship game. Coach Ruffin McNeill has led his alma mater to an 8-2 record, which is the best start since 1999. ECU is 3-1 on the road this season, which includes a 55-31 victory at North Carolina. The Pirates only setbacks came courtesy of a home loss to Virginia Tech (15-10) and an overtime defeat at Tulsa (36-33).
Coach Dave Doeren's Wolfpack will be looking to snap their six-game losing streak that dropped them to a 3-7 overall record. Although Doeren won back-to- back conference championships at Northern Illinois before arriving in Raleigh, NC State is the only team left without a win in ACC play. The Wolfpack will have one final chance to secure a league win as they close out their regular season next week versus Maryland.
This will be the 28th meeting between these schools on the gridiron and the 22nd at Carter-Finley Stadium. NC State owns a 16-11 record versus the Pirates, although ECU earned a 33-27 overtime win in Greenville in the most recent encounter on Oct. 16, 2010.
The Pirates have been sensational offensively en route to averages of 41.5 points and 463.3 total yards per game. Due to their highly productive aerial attack which ranks eighth nationally (341.2 ypg), they have been able to outscore their last four opponents by an average of 36.3 points per game. ECU showed it is not one-dimensional last week as it amassed a season-high 278 yards on the ground, although junior quarterback Shane Carden still managed to rack up 347 yards and tie his career-high with five touchdown passes. Vintavious Cooper also had a monster performance as he racked up 126 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries. Breon Allen contributed 92 yards on 13 totes.
Carden is sixth among FBS signal callers in passing yards per game (332) and has completed 72.5 percent of his throws for 29 scores with only seven interceptions. He has consistently connected with Justin Hardy, who has made at least three receptions in every game of his career. Only three players in the nation tallied more catches than Hardy, who has turned 87 receptions into 1,047 yards and seven TDs to pace the C-USA in all receiving categories.
McNeill's defensive unit is surrendering only 337.9 total yards per game, which is the lowest average in the C-USA. ECU is especially strong against the run as its opponents are netting just over three yards per carry and 101.4 ypg on the ground, which gives it the eighth best rushing defense in the nation. Derrel Johnson has anchored the unit by registering 62 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. ECU's excellence against the run and high- octane offense forces its opposition to pass and it has taken advantage with 14 interceptions.
The Wolfpack are going to have a tough time ending their losing slide if their offense cannot step up its play to match Carden and company. NC State is netting just 22.5 points and 405 total yards per game. It failed to establish the run last week its 38-21 loss at Boston College, gaining only 35 yards on 26 attempts. Pete Thomas started under center and completed 22-of-33 passes for 207 yards and a score. Jumichael Ramos made some plays at wideout to tally five catches, for 109 yards and one TD.
The Wolfpack will struggle to compete with ECU if they fail to establish the run as Thomas has hardly been reliable. The junior signal caller has completed just over 60 percent of his passes for 1,667 yards with nine interceptions and four touchdowns. Brandon Mitchell hasn't fared much better with six interceptions to his credit. Sophomore tailback Shadrach Thornton is leading back with an average of 67.3 yards per game on the ground.
ECU could receive another big performance out of Cooper against NC State, which allowed BC's Andre Williams to set an ACC record for rushing in a game with 339 yards, which is also the most tallied by any player in the FBS this season. While the Wolfpack are very weak versus the run, they are ranked third in the ACC in pass defense (209.7). Senior corner Dontae Johnson managed to pick off two passes last week after coming into the contest with only one interception on the campaign. Senior linebacker Robert Caldwell has recorded 87 tackles, including 10.5 TFL.
The Pirates have a chance to make a statement and build momentum for their very crucial matchup with Marshall on deck. NC State is going to come out hungry for a positive result, but it will not be able to keep up with the visitors.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 38, NC State 28
11/20 10:40:37 ET