East Carolina (9-3) vs. Ohio University (7-5)|
Monday, December 23, 2 p.m. (ET)
The Sports Network
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The East Carolina Pirates will try to end their postseason woes as
they take on the Ohio University Bobcats in the Beef'O'Brady's Bowl at
East Carolina was defeated, 59-28, by Marshall in its regular-season finale.
The loss prevented the Pirates from making a trip to the Conference USA
Championship game and left them with a 9-3 overall record. Coach Ruffin
McNeill led his alma mater to wins over North Carolina and NC State which
marked the first time the school has notched victories over both of its
instate rivals in the same campaign.
"I'm proud of the way we have been resilient all year long," McNeill said.
"This team has faced a lot of adversity and they just kept bouncing back. This
team has done some special things."
ECU has qualified for a bowl game in seven of the last eight years, but has
lost four straight and six of its last seven bowl games. The Pirates suffered
a 43-34 setback to Louisiana in the New Orleans Bowl in 2012.
The Bobcats coasted to a 45-14 win over ULM last December in the Independence
Bowl to improve to 2-5 all-time in bowl games. Coach Frank Solich's squad
ended a three-game losing streak with a 51-23 rout of Massachusetts on Nov. 29
at Peden Stadium. With the victory, Ohio climbed back to the .500 mark in Mid-
American Conference play and to a 7-5 overall record. The Bobcats took on two
of the C-USA's top programs in September and managed to dispatch both North
Texas and Marshall at home.
This will be the third meeting in history between ECU and Ohio. The Pirates
won both previous encounters, the most recent of which took place in 1998.
ECU, which will be joining the American Athletic Conference next season, will
be a competitor in the tougher league due to its unstoppable offensive attack.
The Pirates' averages of 40.4 points and 331.5 passing yards per game rank
"They are a very fast paced team, just like Marshall," said Ohio senior
linebacker Keith Moore. "They run around 90 or 100 plays a game. We've made it
our job to hurry up to the ball and get back to the line of scrimmage for the
Junior quarterback Shane Carden was named the C-USA's Most Valuable Player
after amassing a league-best 3,886 yards, connecting on an FBS-best 71 percent
of his throws. Carden connected with 10 different Pirates for touchdown passes
this year and threw for 32 scores to go along with 10 rushing TDs.
Carden's success under center this season has come in large part due to the
stellar play of junior wideout Justin Hardy, who has caught three or more
passes in all 35 games of his career. The star wide receiver was a First-Team
All-C-USA selection for the second year in a row after he set school records
with 105 receptions and 1,218 receiving yards. Freshman Isaiah Jones also
plays a big role in the passing game, tallying 556 yards and five TDs on 54
catches. Despite ECU's pass heavy attack, senior tailback Vintavious Cooper
enters the bowl game just five yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark and is tied
for third in the conference with 11 rushing scores.
Jones had a breakout performance at Marshall, finishing with 123 yards on nine
catches. Carden had his worst outing of the season as he was picked off three
times and failed to throw any touchdown passes. The Pirates' defensive unit
also had a forgettable performance. The Thundering Herd racked up 539 yards of
total offense with 267 yards and five TDs coming on the ground.
ECU still finished the regular season atop the C-USA leaderboard in rushing
defense at 117.5 ypg. McNeill's defense has a pair of standout senior leaders
in linebacker Derrell Johnson and defensive back Damon Magazu. Johnson
registered a team-high 79 total stops including 13.5 tackles for loss, 7.5
sacks and a forced fumble. Magazu recorded 75 tackles and picked off four
Johnson and Magazu will try to contain Ohio's senior tandem of Tyler Tettleton
and Beau Blankenship. In his third year as the full-time starter under center,
Tettleton passed for 2,623 yards and 20 TDs with nine interceptions. The
senior quarterback was sacked only 12 times after being taken down 49 times
over the previous two seasons.
Tettleton spearheaded the charge for the Bobcats in their season-ending
victory over the Minutemen with 243 yards and two scores on 18-of-27
efficiency. Blankenship, who rushed for 1,604 yards and 15 TDs as a junior,
picked up 124 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Although he was one of the
MAC's elite tailbacks in 2012, Blankenship has 844 rushing yards on the season
entering his final collegiate game. Senior wide receiver Donte Foster is
pacing the team with 63 catches, 858 yards and six TDs. Chase Cochran and Matt
Waters are tied for second on the squad with 32 receptions each.
Ohio was in the middle of the pack in its conference offensively with averages
of 28 points and 374.8 total yards per outing. The Bobcats' special teams unit
was one of the most dynamic in the league though, as kick returner Devin Bass
and punt returner Travis Carrie were both All-MAC First Team selections.
Defensively, Solich's unit has been sporadic. Prior to taking down UMass, the
Bobcats were outscored, 123-16, during a three-game losing streak. None of
their wins in MAC play came over opponents with winning records. They allowed
an average of 26.7 points per game and 4.4 yards per carry on the season.
Ohio's foes achieved 19.8 first downs per game, which is the third lowest
average among MAC schools. Sophomore linebacker Ben Russell was an anchor for
the unit with 82 total tackles and freshman defensive end Tarell Basham
registered eight total sacks.
The Bobcats underachieved in conference play for the second straight season
after making a trip to the 2011 MAC Championship. Ohio really struggles if it
fails to establish the run, which could be difficult to accomplish against the
Pirates' usually sturdy rush defense. Although ECU just lost to a Marshall
team that Ohio defeated earlier in the year, the Pirates have been much more
impressive overall. ECU will end its bowl game woes as long as it protects the
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 38, Ohio University 24
12/18 10:49:51 ET