Houston (4-4) at East Carolina (5-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 3, 12 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (50,000) -- Greenville, North Carolina. Television: FSN. Home Record: Houston 3-2, ECU 3-1. Away Record: Houston 1-1, ECU 2-3. Neutral Record: Houston 0-1, ECU 0-0. Conference Record: Houston 3-1, ECU 4-1. Series Record: ECU leads, 6-5.
GAME NOTES: The Houston Cougars travel to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this weekend for a Conference USA matchup against the East Carolina Pirates.
An 0-3 start had Houston looking like a team that would struggle to put together wins this season. Since that inauspicious start, the Cougars have righted the ship with wins in four of their last five games, including a 45-35 victory over UTEP this past weekend. Three of those wins have come in conference play which has helped Houston keep itself in the C-USA title chase with a one game lead in the C-USA West Division.
East Carolina is at the top of the East Division with a 4-1 mark against conference foes. That success in league play didn't mean much as the Pirates were rolled over by Navy 56-28 last weekend. There are only three more games on the schedule for ECU which is still short of the win total needed to earn a bowl bid.
ECU will certainly be out for some revenge in this matchup after Houston posted a 56-3 rout against the Pirates last season. Even with that loss, ECU holds the all-time series lead 6-5.
High-powered offensive production has been the theme for the Cougars over the last few seasons, especially through the air. Houston is the ranked seventh in the nation in passing (340.1 pg) and is one of just 20 teams to be putting up 300 or more yards passing per game. Those types of numbers have helped Houston become the second most productive offense in the conference at 512.3 yards per game. Houston also scores at a high rate, averaging 34.1 points per game.
A solid quarterback is needed for the Cougars to run their high-octane offense and this season David Piland has been able to serve in that capacity. Taking over for the record-setting Case Keenum, Piland has thrown for 2,438 yards and 12 touchdowns, while completing passes at a 59.9 percent clip. Piland has been a bit turnover prone though, with nine interceptions.
The passing game took a huge hit when wide receiver Dewayne Peace was suspended indefinitely for disciplinary reasons earlier this week. Peace had caught a team-high 42 passes for 458 yards. That will mean Daniel Spencer, who has a team-high 543 yards.
Even though the squad passes a ton there has still been a bunch of production in the run game. Charles Sims has rushed for the second most touchdowns in the conference with 11, while racking up a conference high 115.9 yards per game. Sims s has 816 yards rushing overall and is averaging a hefty 6.1 yards per attempt.
For all its offensive numbers, Houston has not been able to slow down opposing teams. Part of that can be attributed to the torrid pace at which the Cougars play, giving teams extra opportunities. Houston averages a league low in time of possession with just over 25 minutes per game. Still there is certainly room for improvement. Houston is allowing 450.9 yards per game and 35.3 points.
With opponents constantly on the field the Cougars have accumulated some impressive numbers in comparison to the rest of the conference. Houston is second in the league in both sacks (26) and tackles for loss (60). Phillip Steward is tied for the second most tackles in the conference with 84, while Derrick Mathews (75) and Trevon Stewart (73) also rank in the top 10 in total tackles. Steward is also the conference leader in sacks (8.0) and tackles for loss (14.0).
East Carolina doesn't' play at a rapid offensive pace. The Pirates are picking up 377.6 yards per game in total offense, while scoring 26.0 points per contest. However like Houston, the Pirates are a more pass-reliant team, ranked fifth in the conference in passing offense (257.1 ypg).
Shane Carden is at the helm, throwing for 1,879 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. He is coming off of a rough outing against Navy where he failed to reach 200 yards passing for the first time in five games. In fact, Carden had thrown for more than 300 yards in consecutive weeks before his 194-yard effort against Navy.
Another prolific offensive streak came to an end for an ECU player against Navy, as Justin Hardy had a streak of three straight games with 100 yards receiving come to an end. A streak that did not end for Hardy was his consecutive games with a touchdown which is now at five. Hardy leads the conference in receiving yards (780), as well as in receiving touchdowns (nine).
Vintavious Cooper provides ECU with a ton of offensive punch out of the backfield. He has piled up 751 yards on the season and has really stepped up his production in recent weeks. Cooper rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Navy, which came after a 172-yard, two-touchdown effort the previous week against UAB.
In comparison to Houston, ECU has been a much stronger defensive team. The Pirates are ranked fourth in the conference in both scoring defense (28.7 ppg) and total defense (411.6 ypg), but those numbers are certainly not dominating. East Carolina has clamped down in crucial situations this season, ranking fourth in the conference in opponents' red zone success rate (73.3 percent) and third in third down conversion rate (38.0 percent).
Jeremy Grove and Damon Magazu have each reached the 60-tackle plateau with Groce at 61 and Magazu at an even 60. Derrell Johnson has been solid on the edge, collecting 5.5 tackles for loss. Chip Thompson and Adonis Armstrong have been ball-hawks with four interceptions and 16 passes defended combined.
Houston is a team built to score and score quickly and East Carolina may not have the defense to be able to slow down the Cougars. If the Pirates are to pull this one out Carden will have to win a shootout with Piland, which seems like a rather tall task.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 38, East Carolina 34
10/31 10:42:59 ET