Official practice begins today for the 2019 East Carolina football season, which starts at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, which is also where the 2018 season ended.
The final game last season was a schedule adjustment created by cancellations due to Hurricane Florence.
Providing there are no weather wipe-outs this season, the Pirates will take on a pair of Football Championship Subdivision foes and three teams from the Western Division of the American Athletic Conference that ECU hasn’t faced recently.
A new coaching staff, led by Mike Houston, will be working to build a program that went 3-9 overall last year and finished 1-7 in the AAC.
Here is a look at some aspects of the upcoming schedule:
Aug. 31, at N.C. State
The Wolfpack accumulated 655 yards of total offense in trouncing ECU, 58-3, to end last season for the Pirates. State’s offensive personnel has changed significantly and coordinator Eli Drinkwitz left for the head coaching job at Appalachian State.
Gone are quarterback Ryan Finley, who passed for 409 yards against ECU, Reggie Gallaspy, who rushed for 220 yards,P and Jakobi Meyers, who had 13 catches for 163 yards. Premier receiver Kelvin Harmon had six catches for 67 yards in his last game in Raleigh.
The pending meeting also will feature different personnel for the Pirates. Quarterback Holton Ahlers, running back Darius Pinnix and wideout Deondre Farrier missed the last game last year but are expected to be impact players in the new scheme.
State went 9-4 with a 52-13 loss to Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl.
Sept. 7, Gardner-Webb
This will be the first gridiron matchup between the Pirates and the Runnin’ Bulldogs, who were picked fifth among seven teams in the Big South Conference of the FCS.
There will be significant excitement above Bagwell Field as this will be the first game played at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with the new, $60 million TowneBank Tower in place on the South side.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs didn’t exactly live up to their name during a 3-8 season in 2018 as they rushed for a net of 1,500 yards and passed for 1,704. G-W struggled with rushing defense, too, allowing 3,139 yards and finishing 124th in that category in the FCS.
The Bulldogs have 17 starters back. G-W will have a little extra time to prepare for the Pirates as it opens the season at Charlotte on August 29.
Sept. 14, at Navy
ECU has struggled to defend the option attack of the Midshipmen and trails 1-5 in the series. Navy returns as a West Division opponent in the AAC rotation after downing the Pirates 45-21 in Annapolis in 2015 and 66-31 in Greenville in 2016.
The Mids were 5-7 overall and 2-6 in the AAC last season with a 17-10 loss to Army to end the season. Navy averaged 276.1 yards rushing, fifth in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The passing yards average was 72.8, which ranked 129th. Defensively, the Mids allowed 33.5 points per game, which was 103rd nationally.
Malcolm Perry returns as the quarterback starter. He began 2018 behind center but was subsequently moved to the slotback position.
Navy is scheduled for open dates before and after playing ECU.
Sept. 21, William & Mary
The Tribe was a late addition to the schedule after a cancellation by Virginia Tech. ECU and William & Mary used to play regularly when both were in the Southern Conference.
The Tribe now competes in the Colonial Athletic Association of the FCS. The new Pirates staff will have a degree of familiarity with W&M, having taken a 51-0 win at James Madison last season. Jimmye Laycock has since retired as coach of the Tribe and has been replaced by Mike London, who previously coached at Richmond, Virginia and, most recently, Howard.
W&M is coming off a 4-6 campaign that included a 3-4 mark in league play. A home game with Elon on the weekend of Hurricane Florence was cancelled.
The Tribe was picked 11th among 12 teams in the CAA preseason poll. Safety Isaiah Laster and fullback Tyler Crist are preseason all-conference selections.
The last meeting was a nonconference matchup in Greenville in 2001, which ECU won, 38-23.
Sept. 28, at Old Dominion
ECU returns a visit which resulted in a 37-35 home win for the Pirates in 2018 as Jake Verity kicked a deciding 38-yard field goal with 46 seconds remaining.
Reid Herring was the starting quarterback at that point and completed 24 of 42 passes for 309 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Herring moved ECU from its 33 with 2:02 to go, making a 4th-and-10 connection with Tahj Deans from the Pirates’ 45 for 16 yards. The drive was in danger of ending on an interception, but ODU’s Justice Davila was shown to be bobbling the ball as he went out of bounds on the video review.
ODU quarterback Blake LaRussa completed 21 of 36 for 250 yards with two TDs and one pick at ECU after engineering a 49-35 home win over Virginia Tech the previous week. LaRussa has left football to go into the ministry.
Junior college transfer Messiah deWeaver, who began his college career at Michigan State, is the heir apparent at quarterback for the Monarchs, who were 4-8 overall last season and 2-6 in Conference USA.
Former ECU defensive coordinator David Blackwell has taken on those duties at ODU. Blackwell was interim coach for ECU’s loss at N.C. State last year.
Oct. 3, Temple
The Pirates have played the Owls every year since joining the AAC for the 2014 season and are yet to get a win.
Temple put a 49-6 whipping on ECU last season in Philadelphia as that contest also followed a matchup with ODU.
Temple will come in for a Thursday night game on ESPN after hosting Georgia Tech the previous week. Coincidentally, the Yellow Jackets are coached by Geoff Collins, who guided the Owls the last two seasons.
The Owls went 8-5 overall in 2018 with a 7-1 record in the AAC, losing 52-40 at league champion Central Florida.
Rod Carey took over at Temple after compiling a 52-30 record at Northern Illinois. Quarterback Anthony Russo and several proven receivers are back. Ryquell Armstead, who rushed for 1,098 yards last year, was drafted by Jacksonville.
Six starters are back on a defense that ranked 20th nationally for fewest passing yards allowed, including Linwood Crump and Benny Walls, who had three interceptions each in 2018.
Oct. 19, at Central Florida
The two-time defending AAC champs are picked to win the league again although they will be without quarterback McKenzie Milton, who is still recovering from a knee injury sustained in a 38-10 win at South Florida to end the regular season.
Milton missed a 40-32 loss to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl that ended UCF’s winning streak at 25 games.
The competition at quarterback includes Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush, who started 16 games for the Irish, Darriel Mack Jr., last year’s back-up, and freshmen Quadry Jones and Dillon Gabriel.
Mack started last year’s 37-10 win at ECU because Milton was nursing a shoulder ailment.
Ahlers passed for 406 yards against the Knights in his first start, but five turnovers were too much for the Pirates to overcome.
Both teams have open dates prior to this year’s matchup. The Knights play at Cincinnati on Friday, Oct. 4.
Oct, 26, South Florida
The Bulls have nine starters back on offense and six returning on defense after going 7-6 overall and 3-5 in the AAC in Charlie Strong’s second season as coach at USF.
The Bulls started 7-0 before a 57-36 loss at Houston began a 6-game slide.
USF was ECU’s third opponent last season after the Pirates headed to the Sunshine State with the approach of severe weather rather than play a nonconference game at Virginia Tech.
The score was tied at 13 at Raymond James Stadium when Jordan Cronkrite broke free on a deciding 80-yard touchdown run with 10:13 left for a 20-13 Bulls win.
Former Florida quarterback Kerwin Bell is the new offensive coordinator for USF. He will try to maximize the skill set of returning quarterback Blake Barnett.
The Bulls visit Navy the week before traveling to ECU.
Nov. 2, Cincinnati
The Bearcats improved to 11-2 in 2018 after going 4-8 in Luke Fickell’s first year as head coach.
Cincinnati was tough up front in its marked improvement, allowing just 113.0 yards rushing while running for 239.5 per game. The Bearcats were eighth nationally in points allowed (17.2) and were 23rd in scoring (34.9).
A 56-6 home win over ECU in Scottie Montgomery’s last game on the sideline helped those numbers.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder is among seven returning starters on offense.
Seven starters are back on defense including linebacker Bryan Wright, who had five sacks, and James Wiggins, who totaled four interceptions.
Cincinnati has an open date prior to its trip to Greenville.
Nov. 9, at Southern Methodist
The Mustangs have done some shuffling at quarterback after going 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the AAC in Sonny Dykes’ first full season as coach.
Three-year SMU starter Ben Hicks left for Arkansas and Shane Beuchele arrived from Texas. Receivers Reggie Roberson, James Proche and Judah Bell are experienced. Running backs Xavier Jones and Ke’Mon Freeman each averaged 4.5 yards per carry in reserve roles.
An emphasis has been put on better blocking, which may be the key to bowl hopes.
Eight starters are back on a defense that yielded 35.3 points per game, which ranked 110th nationally.
The Mustangs travel to Memphis the week before hosting the Pirates.
ECU hasn’t met SMU since a 55-31 win for the Mustangs at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in 2016.
Nov. 23, at Connecticut
The Pirates’ deficiencies in the Montgomery era didn’t include their games with the Huskies as ECU won all three East Division matchups and averaged 45.7 points in the process.
UConn managed just one win in 2018, outscoring Rhode Island, 56-49.
Kevin Mensah, who ran for 1,045 yards last season, shapes up as a primary weapon for new offensive coordinator Frank Giufre.
Mensah had 88 yards on 14 carries in a 55-21 loss at ECU last season. Ahlers completed 22 of 31 for 242 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. He also kept 12 times for 130 yards and a score.
That performance loses some luster when considering that it came against a unit that allowed 617.4 yards and 50.4 points per game.
The Huskies have an open date after playing at Cincinnati before ECU comes in following an open date of its own.
Nov. 30, Tulsa
The Golden Hurricane comes to ECU for the first meeting between the programs since Tulsa topped the visiting Pirates, 45-24, in 2016.
Zach Smith Jr., a transfer from Baylor, is expected to step in at quarterback to lead hopes for improvement after a 3-9 overall record in 2018 and a 2-6 finish in the AAC. Smith threw for 463 yards and four touchdowns against Oklahoma while playing for the Bears.
The Golden Hurricane had five losses by nine points or less last season, but face nonconference challenges at Michigan State and at home against Oklahoma State in the first three games.
Running backs Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor are proven. There is experience among the receivers.
The linebacking corps and secondary appear solid.
Tulsa hosts Houston the week before the regular-season finale in Greenville.