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The Dirty Dozen: East Carolina

The Bulls hit the midway point of the season with a divisional showdown with East Carolina, under new coach Scottie Montgomery.

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Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

After opening conference play at Cincinnati, South Florida returns to Raymond James Stadium on October 8 to welcome East Carolina and brand new head coach Scottie Montgomery.

Opponent: East Carolina Pirates

Date: October 8th (Time TBA), Raymond James Stadium

Head Coach: Scottie Montgomery (First Season at ECU)

Offensive Coordinator: Tony Petersen

Defensive Coordinator: Kenwick Thompson

All-Time Series: Former Conference USA members who also met in the inaugural Birmingham Bowl (USF’s first bowl victory), the Bulls and Pirates have played a total of six times. East Carolina’s only win in the series was in 2014.

Last year’s contest was a rain-soaked affair in Greenville best remembered for Rodney Adams’ game winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter, arguably the most defining play of the year next to the flea flicker at Syracuse.

2015 Results: Losing QB Shane Carden, WR Justin Hardy, and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to Oklahoma, the Pirates took a step back last season, finishing the season 5-7 and missing a bowl for the first time since 2011.

Hamstrung by injuries at QB since before the season, the Pirates couldn’t find consistency throughout the season, losing four games by a touchdown or less. Despite only one down season, universally respected head coach Ruffin McNeill was fired at the end of the season with AD Jeff Compher citing aspirations to “win championships” as the reasoning behind his dismissal.

For an in depth look at our purple and gold divisional opponents, you can check out Bill Connelly’s preview for the 2016 Pirates. We’ll hit you with the sparknoted version of what you need to know about this year’s East Carolina squad.

Offense

Coming from Duke, Scottie Montgomery helped elevate the Blue Devils’ offensive profile during his stint in Durham under David Cutcliffe. Now he and new coordinator coordinator Tony Petersen will look to take a unit that ranked 70th in Offensive S&P+ and mold it into an aerial juggernaut down the road.

That process starts under center, where Minnesota/Rutgers transfer Philip Nelson has been named the starter. Nelson passed for 2,179 yards and 17 touchdowns in two seasons at Minnesota before deciding to transfer to Rutgers. Before playing a single down, he was promptly kicked out of Rutgers after being arrested on charges of assault. He walked on at East Carolina in August 2015.

Waiting in the wings is backup transfer Gardner Minshew, who led NW Mississippi Junior College to a national championship last year.

ECU’s QBs will have a lot to work with right out the gate. The Pirates pass-happy offense returns seven upperclassmen wide receivers, including senior Zay Jones in the slot. Jones eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving in 2015 and stands as one of the American’s biggest threats in the open field.

Running backs James Summers and Anthony Scott return to the Pirates backfield. While East Carolina was by no means a running power, only rushing 33.7 times per game on average, the athleticism the former QB turned tailback Summers is something opposing defenses like the Bullsharks will have to take account for. Just ask Virginia Tech.

However, the weakness of the Pirates offense will lie in the offensive line, as only three players with starting experience returns to the unit. Bruce Hector, Deadrin Senat, and the rest of the Bulls defensive line could cause nightmares for Montgomery’s patchwork unit.

Defense

Despite the loss of all-conference linebackers Zeek Bigger and Montese Overton, East Carolina’s front seven is experienced, returning fifteen defensive lineman and linebackers who saw significant playing time last season.

Senior Fred Presley, who recorded 34 tackles, four TFLs and two forced fumbles in 2015, returns as the lead defensive end. Junior inside linebacker Jordan Williams, who started all 12 games last year, anchors a unit that looks to improve their #75 defensive S&P+ ranking.

The Achilles heel of defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson’s unit could be the secondary. If Quinton Flowers can use his arsenal of weapons to get into the second level of the defense and exploit the Pirates’ thin secondary, it could be a long day for Montgomery’s guys.

Bottom Line

We’ll dive into full detail when the calendar switches to October and the game comes up. On first glance, facing a first-year head coach at home should result in a victory for the Bulls.

The key defensively for USF is for Willie Taggart and Raymond Woodie to exploit ECU’s inexperienced offensive line. Applying heavy pressure could rattle Philip Nelson into making ill-advised throws and neutralize the explosive play abilities of James Summers and Zay Jones.