East Carolina (3-1) at Middle Tennessee (3-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 5, 3:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Floyd Stadium (30,788) -- Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Television: FSN, SportSouth. Home Record: ECU 2-1, MT 2-0. Away Record: ECU 1-0, MT 1-2. Neutral Record: ECU 0-0, MT 0-0. Conference Record: ECU 1-0, MT 1-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The two teams tied atop of the East Division standings will collide on Saturday as the East Carolina Pirates collide with the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in a Conference USA matchup at Floyd Stadium.
The Pirates ended a 38-year drought without a win at Kenan Stadium as they defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels, 55-31, in a non-conference tilt against their in-state rival last week. ECU is now 3-1 on the season having also notched victories over Old Dominion (52-38), Florida Atlantic (31-13) and losing to Virginia Tech, 15-10, in its last appearance at home. Coach Ruffin McNeal's squad has won four consecutive East Division games.
Middle Tennessee is coming off a 37-10 loss at BYU that lowered it to 3-2 overall. The loss ended its two-game winning streak that consisted of a home win over Memphis (17-15) and a 42-35 overtime decision at Florida Atlantic in the program's C-USA debut. Now in his eighth season at the helm of the program, coach Rick Stockstill has gone 46-46.
This will be the first time these schools have square off. Middle Tennessee is in its inaugural year as a member of the C-USA. This could be the only league game between these schools for some time as ECU is set to move to the American Athletic Conference in 2014.
There is not a defense in the nation that is safe when facing ECU's dynamic duo of Shane Carden and Justin Hardy. Carden opened up the season with a record-setting performance versus ODU, completing 46 passes for 447 yards and five touchdowns. Carden was instrumental in the win over UNC last time out as he threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns on 32-of-47 efficiency and scored on three short runs as well. The second-year starter had led the Pirates to 37 points per game, which is the second highest average in the C-USA.
Hardy enters Saturday having made a touchdown catch in 16 of his last 22 games. The speedy junior wideout has been held to just two touchdown receptions this season, but is second in the conference in receptions per game (eight) and fifth in receiving yards per outing (81). He finished last week with 66 yards and a score on six catches at UNC.
ECU erupted for 603 yards of total offense and converted on all eight red zone opportunities in its win over the Tar Heels. Vintavious Cooper rushed for 186 yards and also led the Pirates with eight receptions for 70 yards. Lance Ray had 84 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions. Cooper surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in 2012 and could do so again as he has 347 yards on 75 carries through four games.
The Pirates have been up and down on the defensive side of the ball this season. They are ranked second in the C-USA in scoring defense with 24.2 points allowed per game and fourth in total defense at 379.5 ypg. ECU held UNC to just 68 rushing yards and allowed the Tar Heels into the red zone only twice in its last outing. Chip Thompson led the way with nine tackles and an interception.
Middle Tennessee went into its game at BYU ranked third in C-USA in scoring (31.0 ppg), but it dropped to seventh in the league at 26.8 ppg after being held in check by the Cougars. Middle Tennessee is netting 184.2 yards rushing per game, but producing only two more yards per game through the air. The squad has failed to come up with big plays to extend drives, only converting 49.4 percent of its third downs.
The offense has been effective despite the sporadic play of Logan Kilgore, who needs only nine more touchdowns to break Wes Counts's school record of 50 career TD passes. Kilgore has thrown for 811 yards and five touchdowns, but he is completing only 56.6 percent of his pass attempts and has tossed six interceptions. The senior had a poor performance last time out as he finished 13-of-31 passing for 82 yards with one touchdown to one interception.
Jordan Parker has played outstanding as the Blue Raiders' primary rusher, turning 101 carries in 435 yards and four touchdowns. He is the third-leading runner in the C-USA with an average of 96.2 ypg. Reggie Whatley is a great change of pace back who is often used as a weapon around the goal line.
Tavarres Jefferson has team-highs in both receptions (22) and receiving yards (279), but he has yet to find the end zone. Jefferson was shutout by BYU Kyle Griswould is a serviceable second option for Kilgore with 16 catches for 134 yards and two scores.
The Blue Raiders are one of the weaker teams in the C-USA on the defensive side of the ball. They are giving up averages of 30.2 points and 445.2 yards of total offense per game. Middle Tennessee was torched for 486 total yards and 22 first downs last week at BYU. The Blue Raiders suffered the double- digit deficit despite forcing five turnovers on the night. Sophomore linebacker T.T. Barber led the team in tackles for the fifth time this season as he registered a career-best 15 stops, a sack and a forced fumble.
The unit has made up for its lackluster play on a regular basis with big plays, recording 16 turnovers through just five games.
Takeaways will not be easy to find for the Blue Raiders this week with Carden playing at an extremely high level. ECU showed it can win on the road against an ACC opponent last week. Although Middle Tennessee is perfect at home so far, its previous visitors to Floyd Stadium were not as tough as the Pirates.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 42, Middle Tennessee 28
10/02 10:33:12 ET