The American Athletic Conference determined the bye weeks for East Carolina this football season. The Pirates are coming off their first open date as they go to Central Florida on Saturday for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
ECU also does not play on Saturday, Nov. 16. That falls between road trips to Southern Methodist on Nov. 9 and Connecticut on Nov. 23.
Pirates coach Mike Houston has no major objections as to where the bye weeks are.
“The first one and the second one fall at pretty good places on our schedule,” Houston said. “The only thing that I would do different, would be maybe have a bye before Temple. That would give us a little more time to prepare for that Thursday night game.”
ECU hasn’t played since a 27-17 home loss to Temple on Oct. 3.
“At the end of the day, it’s good to have the long break between the Temple game and UCF with us playing six games in 33 days,” Houston said.
Rain in forecast
Houston was asked earlier this week about the possibility of rain at UCF and its potential impact.
“It’s 100 percent rain here on Wednesday,” Houston said. “As long as there’s no lightning along with that and it’s not some kind of torrential downpour, we’ll practice in that rain tomorrow, which should help us prepare for any inclement weather that we have on Saturday night.
“The thing is you have to be prepared to play no matter what the elements are. We’ve always taken that stance of being prepared for the rain, the wind, whatever it is within our game plans.”
Orlando, recruiting influence
Florida is regarded as fertile ground for recruiting, which adds to the significance of the pending matchup.
“I think so,” Houston said. “We’ve got several kids from that area that are committed to us from that area right now. Having the opportunity to be down there, obviously, they’ll be hearing our name and things like that so I think it can be a positive.”
Central Florida strengths
Central Florida has lost just three games since the start of the 2017 season. Two of those setbacks have taken place at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati by a total of four points.
The Knights (4-2, 1-1 AAC) are still a very formidable foe.
“I think their strength is their team speed,” Houston said. “They’re extremely dynamic in every phase. I mentioned to my staff, they remind me a lot of what we were at JMU at the FCS level. For years, our dynamic, big-play ability — people just couldn’t match with it. That’s very much what you see on film with UCF.
“They have tremendous skill across the board on offense. They return a veteran offensive line. Three all-conference linemen return. The freshman quarterback (Dillon Gabriel) is very talented. He’s got a strong arm, very accurate, quick release. Obviously, he understands the offense very well.
“He is a freshman. but at the same time, you’re not asking him to go out there and save the world. He’s just got to operate within the parameters of the offense and distribute the ball appropriately.
“You look at defense. They’re long, athletic, can run.
“Of course, if you have that kind of speed on offense and defense, that means you’re going to have that kind of speed on special teams.
“It’s their team speed and their dynamic, big-play ability is what really stands out.”
UCF, multiple QBs
The Knights are missing McKenzie Milton at quarterback this season. Milton missed last year’s 37-10 win last year in Greenville and Daniel Mack stepped in.
With UCF coming off a 27-24 loss at Cincinnati on Oct. 4 in its last outing, Houston was thinking that the Knights might make more use of Mack. The Pirates have prepared for multiple quarterbacks.
“I think you need to,” Houston said. “D.J. Mack is a talented player. He’s from Virginia. We recruited him when he was a high school player coming out at Virginia Beach.
“He obviously was a very solid player for them down the stretch last year. He did get significant playing time against UConn in the second half, so I think we’ve got to be prepared to see him as well.”
ECU’s own quarterback situation was affected when Reid Herring announced plans to transfer earlier the season. Bryan Gagg has moved into a back-up role.
“He’s a true freshman,” Houston said. “He was committed to the last staff when we got here so it was a pretty quick get to know him kind of deal before signing day.
“He’s a really sharp young man. He has a good personality about him. He carries himself with confidence. He has good size. He has good athletic ability. He’s improved a good bit since he got here. I think he’ll improve a good bit more as the years go on as a player. He is still just a freshman.”
The Pirates are at the midpoint of the 2019 regular season.
“You’re sitting here 3-3 so, big picture-wise, I think it’s a solid start,” Houston said. “Do you wish you were 6-0? Absolutely. We’ve had an opportunity to be 6-0 several times over the years. You always want to start out like that. You’re not 0-6 either so I think you’ve had a solid start.
“I think when you look deeper, which is what you really have to do this first year, you’ve got to look at how your team is progressing. If you take the starting reference point being the N.C. State game (34-6 loss) and you track us. Certainly, the Navy game (42-10 loss) is one that I’m extremely disappointed in for a variety of reasons.
“Aside from that game, I feel like you can look at our team and we have improved each week out. I think the roster is improving individually and I think we’re improving as a team collectively.
“You’re not talking about one phase. You’re talking about all three phases. I think if you take an even further step back and look at the program, we’re making very solid forward steps with the program.
“I’m evaluating that in all areas, whether it be our current roster, facilities, recruiting, everything within the athletic department as it relates to football, resources available to student-athletes, nutrition, academic support, all of those things. I think we’re taking solid steps forward.”
What Houston wants to see
Houston was asked what he wants to see from his team on Saturday night.
“I’d say I want to see us go in there and compete at a very high level,” Houston said. “When I say that, it’s a very broad statement, but you can get caught up in whatever the predictions are, the point spreads or all that stuff. You can throw that stuff out the window. We need to go in there and we need to compete down after down.
“There are certain things we’ve got to do in order to have a chance to win. Being able to handle their pace on offense and function at a high level defensively is going to be very important. We’re obviously going to have to tackle very well in the open field. We’ll have to do the best that we can to prevent the big plays. They’re going to make some big plays. They’ve got too much ability and talent not to. We’ve got to get them on the ground, try not to give up the home run ball and make them snap it again.
“Hopefully, we can create enough adversity and put them under enough duress to hopefully — they make a mistake and turn the ball over, derail a drive, something like that. I think that’s really the key on defense.
“Offensively, we’ve got to do a great job of ball security. We’ve got to be really aggressive and attack. We’ve got to be able to drive the football offensively. Stay on the field, whether it’s running the ball or throwing the ball.
“I think special teams will be important. They’ve been outstanding on special teams this year. They’ve got a punt return for a touchdown. They’ve obviously been very good on the coverage teams. At the same time, one of the critical plays in the Pittsburgh game was a blocked punt return for a touchdown. So winning the special teams phase is important for us.
“But i think the biggest thing is just being able to go into that environment, which it’s a tough environment to play in against what is arguably the most talented team in our league and certainly the most dominant team in our league over the past two-and-a-half years and go in there and go toe-to-toe with them. I think it will be another measuring stick for our program.”
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