Anticipation for an East Carolina football game can vary from week to week. The matchup last Saturday against South Florida was viewed as a winnable game with each team coming in with a 3-4 record.
The Pirates made a lackluster showing, trailing 35-10 at the half and eventually falling, 45-20.
ECU coach Mike Houston has watched the game tape as the Pirates have shifted the focus to a home matchup with No. 17 Cincinnati (6-1), which is coming off a bye week. Kickoff against the Bearcats is Saturday at 7 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).
“I’ve watched it, obviously, several times,” Houston said of the USF game. “Disappointed in the loss. Certainly, we expected to play better than we did. I don’t want to take anything away from South Florida. I thought they played probably better than we had seen on tape for the most part this year.
“We had seen flashes of them playing at that level throughout the year. Certainly, they have extremely high ability. That was evident from the beginning of the game, just the size, athleticism and speed they had. Both sides of the football at the skill positions, up front on the offensive and defensive lines. So I don’t want to take anything away from them.
“They’re a much better football team than their record (4-4).
“At the same time, I think we’re better than what we showed at times Saturday. Certainly, we had our chances. We had great opportunities and made some mistakes that we can’t make. We’ve got to continue to improve to be able to take advantage of opportunities. That’s all three phases, not just one phase.
“Everything is going to get magnified by the scoring opportunities we had that we did not convert on, but even things as little as having the opportunity there in the second quarter to pin South Florida deep in their own territory with a properly-executed coffin corner kick with our punt unit — something we work on a lot. Just execution right there, a touchback. That’s a 20-yard mistake.
“There are some things we need to do better in all three phases.”
McCloud, USF quarterback
Jordan McCloud started at quarterback for the Bulls with Blake Barnett out for the season.
McCloud completed 9 of 12 passes for 102 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He added 49 yards rushing on four keepers.
“He played a half against us,” Houston said. “I think you’ve seen him play at that level periodically throughout the year. What I was worried about was his ability to make plays with his legs.
“First (defensive) play of the game is a great example. We got pressure. We had what, many times this year, has been a sack. He was able to escape pressure. We had a veteran player make a mistake in coverage. Your rule is you plaster your receiver when you get in a scramble mode. In other words, you just lock on to the receiver that you’re covering in a scramble mode. We had a mistake right there by a veteran player. Left the running back open and what should have been an 8-yard loss turned into a 12-, 13-yard gain on the first play of the game.
“I think his ability to make people miss in the open field, his ability to extend plays in the pocket is something he has shown throughout the season and everybody watching him for the first time got to see it on Saturday in the first half.”
Houston talked about preparing for the Bearcats, who dealt ECU a 56-6 loss in Cincinnati last year.
“We need to have a solid week of practice,” Houston said Tuesday. “That’s it. The formula doesn’t change. The process doesn’t change. Our coaches have been working diligently since Sunday on a solid game plan for Cincinnati. They’re a good football team. They don’t have weaknesses. They’re solid in all three phases. They have size. They have speed. They have depth. They play a lot of people. They have physicality. They are a solid football team that does not beat themselves. That’s the reason they’re one of the better teams in the country.
“So we’re going to have to have a great week of practice. We’re going to have to correct our mistakes. We’re going to have to go into this game very dialed-in, very focused. We’re going to have to play with a lot of discipline, a lot of physicality. We’re going to have to execute with a lot of confidence and we’re going to have to go right at them.
“That’s how we want to play anyway but that’s how you have to play against a team like this. We’re excited to have it at home, excited for the opportunity and excited to get on the practice field today.”
Junior linebacker Aaron Ramseur had 17 solo stops, 15 assists, 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks for the season before leaving the USF game in the second quarter.
“Unfortunately, he is going to be out for the year,” Houston said. “He tore his ACL. He will have surgery late this week. Then we will start working on him with rehab and working towards getting ready for next year.”
It was announced last week that the Pirates will play at Michigan in 2023.
“You can probably ask me about that in the spring of 2023,” Houston said. “I’m excited for the future of our program. We’re focused completely on Cincinnati.”
ECU’s guarantee for the date at Ann Arbor reportedly is $1.8 million
The Bearcats shape up as a formidable foe.
“Certainly, Cincinnati has had a great tradition there,” Houston said. “They’ve had a lot of success in football, especially in the last decade, decade and a half. Coach (Luke) Fickell has been there three years now so he’s got his system kind of in place, his culture kind of in place, his fingerprints just on the way they play.
“Offensively, they’re a team that wants to establish the run. They have a very solid running back in Michael Warren. He’s been a solid player for multiple years. The quarterback I think is highly under-rated, Desmond Ridder. I think he’s one of the better quarterbacks we’ve seen this year. He throws it very, very well, makes great decisions with where the ball is going. He’s very decisive with his decisions. He runs very well. He is going to be a threat, not only in the zone read, quarterback-designed run game, but he’s also a threat every time he drops back to pass to break out, escape pressure and make plays with his legs.
“They’re a team that tries to establish the run with a physical offensive line. Very, very good tight ends. Josiah Deguara, 83, 6-3, 240 graduate tight end so he’s a fifth-year senior. He may be the best tight end we’ve seen all year. Very good receiver, very good blocker, blocks well in space. Plays with intensity. I love the way he plays. Very good player.
“They have multiple threats at the wide receiver position. No. 17 (Rashad Medaris) is a threat down the field. He’s a threat in the slot. He’s a threat in the intermediate routes. 13 (Trent Cloud) does a good job there as well. Alec Pierce, No. 12, has shown an ability to make the contested catches down the field. Kind of a take a short guy.
“It’s a team that’s not dissimilar from what our philosophy is in that they want to run the football. They want to throw off of that. They want to take their shots in the passing game off the running game. Mobile, dual-threat quarterback. Good offensive football team.
“Defensively, odd front. They will get in some even front, but primarily an odd- front defense. They play a lot of defensive linemen. The ends are long, 6-4, 6-5. 260. They’re big bodies but they’re long. They’re very twitchy. Very explosive. They can play with power. They can play with speed. They do a great job there on the edge. Their interior guys are 6-2, 6-3, 280, 300-pound kids that have great feet. They’re very strong explosive players. They roll those guys in and out. They play a lot of ’em. They’re probably going to play nine defensive linemen on those three spots. The stand-up jack … those guys are anywhere, 6-4, 230; 6-4, 250, really elite athletes. Those guys will be rushers. They’ll be droppers. Their front is very, very talented.
“Their inside linebackers, Perry Young is a senior. He’s only 5-11, 220, but he is very active, explosive. Plays with a great motor. Makes a lot of plays. Bryan Wright, their mike linebacker, is a fifth-year senior. He may be the best linebacker we’ve seen all year. 6-3, 240, very physical. Knows how to play the game. He’s a great box linebacker but he also can make the plays sideline to sideline.
“Their safeties are very active in the run game. Darrick Forrest, he leads them in tackles. Their guys will come downhill and fit in the box. They’re solid in coverage, extremely good in the run game.
“The corners are good cover corners, good tacklers. Long, can play the ball down the field.
“Their punter, James Smith, is probably regarded as the best punter in the country. Australian, 6-5, a big guy. If he’s not the best, he’s definitely in the top five, statistically and reputation-wise.
“Their special teams are very solid, which is what you would expect from a group that has a strong defense, a team that runs very well, that plays with the physicality they play with.
“Top to bottom, one of the best, if not the best team we’ve seen all year. Certainly, a great challenge, but we’re at home. It’s a great opportunity.”