You may be reading this column on Wednesday but for East Carolina football coach Mike Houston and the Pirates, it’s already Thursday.
ECU has been preparing for an American Athletic Conference contest at Tulsa on Friday night and everything on the Pirate calendar has been moved up a day.
Houston explained at his weekly news conference on Monday, an event that is normally conducted on Tuesday for a Saturday game.
ECU hasn’t played since a 27-23 loss at home to Navy on Oct. 17.
“We were able to get some guys some rest and get a head start on Tulsa with it being a Friday night game,” said the second-year Pirates coach. “For us and the program, today’s Tuesday. For everybody else in the world, today’s Monday.
“But we started practice on Saturday for the game this coming Friday. It’s going to be a quick week. The kids will be excited to kick off on Friday night and get another chance to play on a national stage. It should be an exciting matchup for us.”
Tulsa is in the Central time zone. and the kickoff is at 8 p.m. locally. That means 9 p.m. Eastern time. The game will be on ESPN2.
ECU will take its time on the trip.
“We’re not leaving Greenville until about 2’o clock (on Thursday),” Houston said. “We’ll eat dinner just a touch later Thursday evening. Get to bed just a touch later Thursday night and really allow them to sleep in on Friday morning. Trying to make sure we’re well rested for the night game. Very similar day on Friday to our Saturday down in South Florida.”
ECU (1-3, 1-2 AAC) notched its lone win thus far, 44-24, at USF.
Some may remember the late Don Williams’ 1978 tune, “Tulsa Time”: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSRWuAxh9v0)
The Pirates have been doing their own version of ‘livin’ on Tulsa time’ this week.
Golden Hurricane storms past Bulls
Tulsa (2-1, 2-0 AAC) played last Friday night and won, 42-13, at South Florida.
“We all got a chance to see them on Friday night against South Florida,” Houston said. “It was enjoyable to sit and watch the game, but still take away the same things I expected going into that game and that’s we’re facing one of the better teams, if not the best team, on our schedule. It’s a very solid team top to bottom. They’re very strong in all three phases. Most of the guys are the group that played against us last year. It’s a team that’s made up of fourth- and fifth-year players that have been in the program for multiple years. Very experienced. Very big. Very athletic. A good football team.”
Fourth try for Tulsa’s home opener
According to Tulsa’s game notes, it will be 341 days, dating back to Nov. 23, 2019 against Houston, since Tulsa last played a home game at H.A. Chapman Stadium. Tulsa was ready to open the home season in the first game of the year against Toledo on Sept. 5 until the MAC cancelled its season.
Then Tulsa was going to open the home campaign on Sept. 19 against Northwestern State until the Southland Conference cancelled its season. A third home opener for Oct. 17 was postponed when No. 8 Cincinnati had COVID-19 cases.
It’s been quite some time since a home opener was played so late by ECU’s upcoming opponent.
This game is the latest home opener ever in Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium’s 90-year history. The latest home opener was played 102 years ago when on Nov. 23, 1918 Tulsa, then known as Henry Kendall College, played Oklahoma A&M at Lee Stadium.
Way back then
There are some similarities between now and 1918 when Tulsa played its latest home opener. That fall, Tulsa, known then as Henry Kendall College, played only three games. The government established the Student Army Training Corps units because of World War I, so no October games were played.
Because of the Spanish influenza, Kendall was further compelled to cancel two of the November dates. This year, of course, college football has been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Tulsa’s games that year were on Nov. 2, 23 and 28.
More recent history
ECU was coming off competitive losses to nationally-ranked Southern Methodist and Cincinnati as well as a 31-24 win at Connecticut when the Pirates hosted Tulsa to complete the 2019 season. The Golden Hurricane came in with a 3-8 overall record and were 1-6 in the ACC but left with a 49-24 win over the Pirates on Nov. 30, 2019.
ECU has undergone a roster overhaul since then.
“Well I don’t think our team really compares in any way to last year’s team,” Houston said. “I think we all know that. From a competitive standpoint, for a lot of reasons. But the one thing that stood out to me during that matchup last year was just how big, physically, Tulsa was on both sides of the ball. Big receivers, big defensive backs, big defensive front, big offensive front. It’s just a large football team. The same guys are back so you know what to expect right there and that’s the reason I think our ability to play fast and play a very physical game on Friday night is going to be very important.”
D’Ante Smith may be back
Since its low point in a 49-29 loss at Georgia State on Oct. 3, ECU’s offensive line has been much more effective in its last two games. helping the Pirates rush for 498 yards combined against USF and Navy.
Veteran tackle D’Ante Smith could be back this week.
“I think there’s a chance you’ll see D’Ante,” Houston said. “He’s progressing along well and starting to practice a little bit more.”
Houston expressed doubt that Noah Henderson would be back.
“Noah’s still probably going to be a while,” said the coach.
COVID limits crowds
Houston was not sure how many fans would be allowed for Friday night’s game.
“I don’t know what the situation is at Tulsa,” Houston said. “I do know they’re going to have fans, but I don’t know what the capacity is going to be.
“But certainly, the more fans there, the better the atmosphere. You saw that with our Navy game. We had 3,500 fans and I thought it was a significant improvement on the game day atmosphere from the UCF game. I thought the stadium had great energy from that small group last Saturday. It’s the same at every school. Your fan base, they really make the game day atmosphere. It’s important to every institution.”