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Watching Film: ECU

What can we expect from the Pirates on Saturday?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 William & Mary at East Carolina Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Bulls are on the road again this week looking to bounce back from a beatdown at the hands of Navy. USF will travel into Greenville, NC to take on East Carolina.

ECU is in their first year under new head coach Mike Houston. Houston was previously the coach at James Madison, where he won an FCS national title and compiled a 37-6 record. The winning ways haven’t followed Houston to Greenville quite yet. The Pirates have struggled this season compiling a 3-4 record with two of their wins coming against sub .500 FCS teams (William & Mary, and Gardner Webb). This should be a great opportunity for USF to get back in the win column. Let’s take a look at the numbers and what we can expect to see schematically from ECU.


General Game Management

Marino Rule Plus

It’s no secret that USF has struggled mightily converting third downs this season. However, for the first (and maybe last) time this season, they will actually field the better 3rd down offense. USF is ranked 91st in the nation in converting third downs, while ECU is ranked 120th. Conversely, the ECU defense has fared much better than USF’s on third downs. The Bulls, who are letting opponents convert nearly every other attempt, come into this week ranked 119th in third down defense. ECU is ranked a more respectable 76th.

USF has a large lead in turnover margin. The Bulls are ranked 14th while ECU is tied for 72nd. The Bulls have forced 18 turnovers this season, good for second in the country. This figure is also double the amount of turnovers that ECU has forced this season. The nine turnovers forced by the Pirates is tied for 76th. Both teams have above average starting field position, but USF has a three-yard edge. Teams with a zero to three yard field position edge win 54% of the time.

Yards Per Play (YPP) and Explosive Plays

Based on YPP, USF and ECU are very similar. ECU has a slight advantage on offense where they are ranked just above USF. ECU is 96th in YPP while the Bulls are 98th. On defense, USF has the advantage. The Bulls are ranked 51st in the country and ECU is 64th.

Both teams have played FCS opponents this season. USF has played one (SC State) and ECU has played two FCS programs. When taking FCS opponents out of the stats, the YPP numbers look a little different.

The offensive numbers go down for both teams, but ECU sees a much larger drop than USF. In fact, the Pirates drops over a half yard per play. The ECU offensive YPP ranking post FCS adjustment would place them tied with UConn for 121st in the country. USF would drop to a tie with Illinois for 110th.

Both teams also see worse numbers defensively. USF’s defense would drop to 61st , with only a .19 yard difference pre and post adjustment. ECU’s defense, like the offense, sees a change of over half a yard in the wrong direction. The Pirate’s new number, over six yards per play, would see them ranked 94th in the country.

After the adjustment for only FBS teams, USF has the advantage in both categories. But how do the FBS opponents each team has played stack up? Let’s take a look.

In terms of YPP, both teams have played a similar level of opponent offensive competition. Therefore, comparing the performance of each defense can be done pretty easily. However, the ECU offense has played a higher level of defensive opponent than USF’s offense. When factoring in opponents, ECU may have the better performing offense despite the stats saying otherwise.

One thing the ECU has done better statistically than USF is generate explosive plays on offense and limit them on defense.

Offensively, the Pirates are tied for 34th in scrimmage plays over 20 yards, while the Bulls are tied for 56th. On the defensive side of the ball, ECU is ranked 56th while USF is 74th. For teams that are struggling to move the ball consistently, explosive plays are a lifeline. Whoever wins the explosive play battle will have a big advantage in the game.

ECU Offense- Treasure Hunting

The ECU offense spends most of their time in the shotgun and uses a lot of 11 (1 back and 1 tight end) personnel. The Pirates have struggled to move the ball and score, but they have some playmakers on offense. ECU is ranked 83rd in yards per rush and 99th in yards per pass attempt.

The QB, Holton Ahlers, is used as a dual threat and has shown flashes in both phases. They have some good skill players and a good scheme. Let’s take a closer look at how the Pirates will try to move the ball this weekend.

The ECU offense may not be having the best season statistically, but they have good scheme and some talented players. The quarterback, Ahlers, has shown the ability to make plays with his arms and his legs. He has also shown the ability to turn the ball over. If the Bulls are able to pressure and harass Ahlers, they should be able to generate some turnovers and slow down the Pirate attack.

ECU Defense- Booty

ECU runs what appears to be a 4-3 defense and they will mix coverages. They have been pretty good against the run this season, ranking 54th in yards per rushing attempt allowed. They haven’t fared as well against the pass, ranking 89th in yards per pass attempt allowed. Let’s take a closer look at the ECU defense.

As you can see, ECU doesn’t do anything crazy defensively. They are sound and play with some aggressiveness up front. However, there are plays to be made against them. They have struggled against the pass all season. While they have played better against the run, they are still prone to allowing explosive running plays. If USF goes into the game relatively healthy, they should be able to move the ball and score some points.


This is a very winnable game for USF, but it won’t be easy. The Pirates are in the first year of a new program and feel like they turned a corner last week against UCF. ECU will come in with some confidence in front of their home crowd. Even so, I would expect the Bulls to win this game. Hopefully the Bulls can regain some confidence going into the bye week before a grueling stretch of games in November.