East Carolina (6-2) vs. Cincinnati (5-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, November 13, 7 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Paul Brown Stadium (65,535) -- Cincinnati, Ohio. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: ECU 4-0, Cincinnati 3-1. Away Record: ECU 2-2, Cincinnati 2-2. Neutral Record: ECU 0-0, Cincinnati 0-0. Conference Record: ECU 3-1, Cincinnati 3-1. Series Record: East Carolina leads, 12-5.
GAME NOTES: The Cincinnati Bearcats have a chance to make a statement on Thursday night when the East Carolina Pirates come to town for an American Athletic Conference showdown at Paul Brown Stadium.
About a month ago, Cincinnati was largely counted out of the AAC title chase. The Bearcats had lost three straight, allowing at least 41 points each time, including a setback against Memphis in their league opener. However, they have begun to get some traction, with blowout wins against South Florida (34-17) and Tulane (38-14) the last two times out. They are currently 5-3 overall, but at 3-1 are just a half game back of Memphis for first place in the conference.
East Carolina is also 3-1 in league play, but it is nothing to celebrate considering the Pirates were ranked No. 23 in the nation and the consensus pick to win the conference less than two weeks ago. They have had some time to recover from a 20-10 road loss to Temple, with a week off in the interim, but they can't afford another poor effort.
These teams used to compete in Conference USA against together, but Cincinnati took off for the Big East in 2005. That means the Pirates have had plenty of time to plot revenge for a 24-19 setback in the last meeting. ECU may have lost that game, but it leads the all-time series, 12-5.
ECU is still the most potent offensive team in the conference, averaging 549.5 yards per game. However, the Pirates had only 428 against Temple. The real problem wasn't the yardage though, as they lost five fumbles in rainy conditions in Philadelphia.
Shane Carden was clearly affected by the weather against Temple, as he threw for a season-low 217 yards and did not have a touchdown pass, the first time that has happened this season. It was a low point in an otherwise strong campaign for Carden, who has tallied 2,791 yards and 18 touchdowns, compared to only five interceptions, on 63.9 percent passing.
Carden has had the great fortune of having Justin Hardy and Isaiah Jones to throw to. Hardy has racked up 814 yards and six touchdowns on 65 receptions. He has four 100-yard games this season, but he finished with only 35 yards (a season-low) on four catches against Temple. Jones (55 receptions, 574 yards, four TDs) was also stifled, finishing with a mere 22 yards on three receptions. Cam Worthy (26 receptions, 532 yards, TD) is a nice third option.
Chris Hairston was the only offensive player who really had success against Temple. He rushed for a season-high 153 yards on 21 carries, although he did have one of the team's fumbles. Breon Allen is still the leading rusher for the Pirates, with 605 yards and six touchdowns on 86 carries.
It was certainly not the defense's fault that the Pirates lost to Temple. The Owls only managed 135 total yards in the contest, averaging 2.4 yards per play. ECU is now ranked third in the AAC in total defense (339.4 ypg) and fifth in points allowed (23 ppg).
Cincinnati presents quite a challenge for the ECU defense, as the Bearcats are ranked second in the league in total offense (465.9 ypg), although they have not been nearly as productive as the Pirates.
Gunner Kiel, who was attempting to come back from a rib injury, threw only one pass in Cincinnati's last game against Tulane. The pass was picked off, which may have been why Munchie Legaux came on to finish the game. Legaux threw for 211 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Bearcats to victory. It remains to be seen if Kiel will start this week, but after throwing for 2,049 yards and 20 touchdowns in the first seven contests, it is unlikely he will be frozen out completely, unless the rib issue is a bigger deal than has been let on.
Shaq Washington leads the UC receiving corps with 468 yards on 43 receptions. Chris Moore (20 receptions, 451 yards, five TYs), Mekale McKay (23 receptions, 415 yards, five TDs) and Max Morrison (23 receptions, 415 yards, three TDs) also play major roles.
Mike Boone has been dominant out of the backfield after sitting out the first four games. He had 113 yards against Tulane, following a 212-yard effort against USF. Rod Moore also rushed for over 100 yards against the Green Wave.
Unlike ECU, Cincinnati hasn't had as much success on defense. The Bearcats are letting up 475.6 yards and 29.8 points per game, ranking ninth in the AAC in each category.
There was a great deal of bad luck that went into ECU's loss to Temple. It is extremely unlikely that the Pirates will turn the ball over five times again. After all, they only had nine before facing the Owls. Expect Carden and company to bounce back and win a close one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 34, Cincinnati 28
11/12 10:36:41 ET