The numbers tend to indicate otherwise, but East Carolina’s defense played well in a 47-45 win in four overtimes against Memphis on Saturday night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The Pirates yielded a season high in points and the Tigers had 491 total yards, but a pair of interceptions were pivotal in erasing a 17-0 deficit and there was no celebration until a final 2-point conversion attempt by the visitors was stopped on an incomplete pass.
“That’s what happens in those overtime games that you got to, kind of, take into account is, you get all those extra possessions, so the score can be inflated,” said ECU coach Mike Houston on Tuesday. “Texas A&M, that game a few years ago that, kind of, led to some of our rule changes. I forget what it was, but it was in the 60s or 70s, was the final score.
“I thought our defense played really well, kept us in the ball game all game. Late there into the fourth quarter, they had only given up 20, 23 points. Obviously gave up the touchdown on the last drive of the game to send it to overtime, but I thought, overall, some huge plays, the two turnovers were critical. One led to a score by our offense, the other one was actually a score by our defense. Two great game changing plays there by our secondary, but I thought just all night long, some big, big plays that really kept Memphis off balance.”
Foes get time to prepare for Pirates
ECU hosts Central Florida on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The Pirates will be meeting an American Athletic Conference team for the third time in four weeks that has had extra time to prepare for ECU. Navy had a bye week before coming to Greenville this season.
Tulane took a 27-24 overtime win at Houston on the Friday night before the Pirates won, 48-28, at South Florida. Tulane hosted ECU the next Saturday. Memphis lost 33-32 to an improbable Houston on a Friday night before playing at ECU eight nights later.
UCF is coming off a one-sided win at home against Temple on Thursday, Oct. 13. The Pirates have been seeing teams on TV before seeing them in person.
“Not ideal,” Houston said. “I wish we had the extra time. I watched Central Florida last, I think Thursday night, beat Temple, 70-13, and then they get the extra time to prepare for us, and another day to rest up. … We haven’t had a bye week. That extra day of rest would be great, but the schedule is what it is. So, our guys will be ready to play Saturday.”
UCF has a new quarterback, John Rhys Plumlee, who was utilized mostly as a receiver last season before transferring from Ole Miss.
“They’ve probably got one of the better ones in the country,” Houston said. ” … Red shirt senior, 6 feet, 200 (pounds). He’s their leading rusher. He’s got over 500 yards rushing on the year, seven touchdowns rushing. He’s thrown for over 1,500 yards, 11 touchdowns, three interceptions. He is the key to the whole thing.
“He’s probably a 4.4 (seconds, 40 yards) speed, running the ball, and very, very dynamic. You put a guy like that with those abilities, you surround him with guys like Johnny Richardson, and Ryan O’Keefe, and Isaiah Bowser, Javon Baker, the transfer from Alabama, Kobe Hudson, the transfer from Auburn. You give him those kind of weapons around him, and that’s the reason they put up 70 points against Temple, and 41 against SMU. They’re a very dynamic offense.”
The Pirates wore a throwback uniform against Memphis and dispelled some fans’ superstitions about white helmets, which were worn in losses to Navy and Tulane.
Houston talked about the process of determining the look that ECU wears on game day.
“A lot of times that’s done by marketing, and planned in the summer,” Houston said. “Like last week, like this coming week. And they do it to help with fan engagement. This last week trying to connect with the history of ECU football, and I thought, just what a great job that everyone did. Jarrett Ozimek (director of football creative media), I think Will Treadaway is the young man’s name that designed the uniform.
“He won a contest last year that was sponsored by the Miller School of Business and Entrepreneurship. I thought, just what a great weekend to connect with the Pirates of the 70s, the Pirates of the 80s, the Pirate teams of the 90s, and 2000s, and really tie it all together. And to be able to win a game the way we won it, wearing a uniform that represented the history of East Carolina football, really made it a special weekend.”
ECU will be back in black against the Knights.
“Marketing announced this past weekend that it was a paint-it-black game this coming Saturday,” Houston said. “And so, they’ve put out the graphics, and the social media stuff, and all the posters, and all that stuff that goes along with it. So, our team will wear all black.”
AAC attendance leader
The Pirates are averaging an AAC best 41,777 fans through five home games to lead the league in attendance.
“That’s awesome,” Houston said. “We’re blessed to have a passionate fan base here at East Carolina. It was one of the selling points when I took the job. It’s been one of the selling points for us in recruiting. Certainly, our crowds have an impact on the game, and we’ve never needed our fan base more than we need them this week.
“You’re playing a team the caliber of Central Florida, in a big-time ball game late in the year, with huge conference ramifications at stake. It’s at home, 7:30 kickoff. Everybody’s got all day to tailgate, and eat barbecue, and do all that stuff, and get ready. But we need Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium rocking, and loud, and uncomfortable for our opponent. We need the 12th man this Saturday night.”
Houston said the win over Campbell, a Football Championship Subdivision program, will count toward bowl eligibility.
The Pirates (4-3, 2-2 AAC) need two wins to become eligible for a second straight bowl berth.
There have been some interesting bowl projections involving ECU, including a rematch with N.C. State in the Military Bowl and a trip to the Myrtle Beach Bowl.
Wood to the house
Safety Julius Wood of the Pirates is the AAC Defensive Player of the Week. Wood had a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown as ECU tied the score at 20 in the third quarter.
Wood had six solo tackles against Memphis and was in on a total of 11 stops.
“Julius has been having a great year for us this year,” Houston said. “We felt like he would blossom this year. … He had a solid season for us last year as a backup. Very talented. Had a great offseason. He’s played better and better every week, and 11 tackles, six solo the other night, but no play was bigger than the interception return for a touchdown. The game was 20-13.
“We’re playing a half field man-under defense right there, and got some pressure on (Seth) Hennigan, and he overthrew the digger out across the middle, and Julius, half field safety, made the interception. The run back was what was impressive, and we work interception returns, so there is a design to it. I thought our guys did a great job of setting a wall down the home sideline, and getting out in front, and getting some blocks for him. That was pretty impressive ball skills, the way you ran the football to take it all the way back for the touchdown and tie the football game at 20. And really, at that point, you feel like you have firm control of the game.”
Practice focus, keys
Houston doesn’t want the Pirates resting on their laurels from Homecoming.
“You’ve got to, kind of, put that game behind us,” said the Pirates coach. “I talked about that with the kids on Sunday. Trying to flush the Memphis game because it has no impact on how you’re going to play this Saturday, other than we should have momentum and confidence.
“We’ve got to have a great week of practice. We’ve got to be a prepared to play in a very physical manner Saturday night. They are extremely talented, both sides of the ball. Maybe as talented as anybody we’ve played yet, and it’s going to take our best game of the year. It’s going to take us doing the things we did last Saturday night where we did not turn the ball over, where we did force two turnovers, where we did win the kicking game, where we won the field-position battle, where we won the time of possession. It’s going to take that kind of performance, in order to win this game Saturday night, but we’re very capable of doing that.”