East Carolina will have the advantage of more time to prepare as the Pirates visit Cincinnati on Friday for an 8 p.m. kickoff (ESPN2).
ECU last played on Oct. 28, taking a 27-24 win at Brigham Young on a 33-yard field goal by Andrew Conrad as time expired. The Bearcats faced Navy’s physical option offense last Saturday and topped the visiting Midshipmen, 20-10.
Pirates coach Mike Houston discussed utilization of the bye week.
“Sunday and Monday, I spent time digesting BYU, kind of putting that to bed on Sunday, and then started breaking down Cincinnati on Monday,” Houston said. “And then, we practiced Tuesday and Wednesday, normal practices, typical Tuesday and Wednesday practice, introduced Cincinnati to our players.
“Thursday, we had a big special teams emphasis practice, and then brushed up on Cincinnati a little bit, and then let our scout teams scrimmage at the end, which was pretty spirited.
“A lot of our coaches left either Wednesday morning or Wednesday evening to go recruiting, so it was a skeleton crew on Thursday. And then everybody was on the road Friday, me included, all over the Southeast seeing recruits, seeing ball games, shoring up all that stuff up before coming back home on Saturday and kicking off game week on Sunday.
“It was a pretty busy bye week. Good chance to get our players, some guys that have been playing with some bumps and bruises, get them some time to heal up, get some of our players to play a lot of snaps who maybe didn’t take as much of a load last week as they normally do during the week, but got some guys that maybe have not played as much, got them some significant work last week. So, I think it was a productive week.”
This week’s practice schedule was adjusted for a Friday night game.
“We started off this week very strong,” Houston said. “Had a solid Sunday, a very good Tuesday practice (Monday). … It was pretty sharp, coming off the bye. I thought we’d be a little rusty, and certainly we got some things execution-wise we need to clean up, but I thought our physicality was very good. I thought our effort was fantastic. Our intensity level was very good.”
The Pirates had a typical Wednesday practice on Tuesday. The team is scheduled to travel to Cincinnati today.
Carryover value from BYU
Many of the factors in the BYU game will be in play against the Bearcats.
“The game with Brigham Young was a great experience for our players, in that it was a Friday night game, national television,” Houston said. “It was in a setting where you’re playing in front of 55,000 fans. I mean, noise was a factor for us in that game. That was about as good of an opposing team environment as far as the crowd impacting the game as we’ve seen this year, and a team that had tremendous size, tremendous ability.
“I think you saw last weekend just what kind of team we beat when they go to Boise State and got them up there (31-28, BYU). So, a great win on the road, because you’re going to see a lot of those same things this Friday night. Different stadium. It’s going to be sold out, so it’s going to be a capacity crowd up in Cincinnati. It’s going to be an intense and hostile environment. We’re playing a big, strong, physical football team. It’s national TV. Just so many similarities to that BYU game, so I think that experience will really help us with this game Friday.
Rid of Ridder
Desmond Ridder passed for 301 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions in Cincinnati’s 35-13 win in Greenville last year. Ridder is now the backup quarterback for Atlanta in the NFL. Houston said he has a solid replacement.
“He’s having a great year,” said the ECU coach. “His name is Ben Bryant. He was the backup at Cincinnati for several years for Ridder. He transferred to Eastern Michigan last year and was starting quarterback at Eastern Michigan last year. He threw for over 3,000 yards there and transferred back to Cincinnati for this year.
“On the year, he’s thrown for 2,358 yards, 18 touchdowns, six interceptions, completing about 63 percent of his passes. So, he’s averaging 262 yards passing a game this year. He’s not the runner that Ridder was, but probably has a stronger arm, probably a more accurate arm than Ridder had.
“So, a little bit more of a pocket guy. They run a scheme that’s very similar to ours — run pass option scheme. He has tremendous speed out wide with (Tyler) Scott and (Tre) Tucker. He has two of the best tight ends we’ve seen all year in (Josh) Whyle and (Leonard) Taylor. He’s got several others, big (No.) 84 (Nick Mardner) and 20 (Jadon Thompson), both very capable receivers. Three running backs, they rotate in there that have all had a really solid year this year.
“So, yeah. He’s different but very effective in running their offense, which is evidenced by the success they’ve had offensively, averaging 33 points a game this year.”
Houston said the Pirates will wear the same uniforms as the BYU game.
“We’re going to wear all white,” he said. “Black helmet.”
The Pirates are 6-3 overall, bowl eligible, and have a 3-2 record in the American Athletic Conference. ECU is still in contention to play in the AAC championship on Dec. 3.
“It all depends on how we play the next three weeks,” Houston said. “The focus can’t be anywhere beyond we’ve got to go try to win a ball game in Cincinnati this weekend. So that’s our only focus.”
Cincinnati has won the last four games in the series, which the Pirates lead, 13-12. This will be the last AAC matchup for the programs with the Bearcats on the verge of moving to the Big 12.
Houston summed up the factors for success at Cincinnati.
“We’ve just got to continue playing the way we’ve played for about the past month,” said the ECU coach. “For about the past month we’ve played very complementary football. We’ve been extremely physical in all three phases. We have done a great job of taking care of the football and not turning the ball over. We have not had many penalties offensively. We’ve really done a good job of executing at a high level and not beating ourselves.
“Defensively, I think we’ve done a great job with playing with physicality and just a great effort in intensity. Great pursuit. We’ve been able to force some turnovers in big ball games that have really changed the dynamic of the game. We’ve been able to give our offense good field position. We’ve had a good combination of getting stops and playing very solid special teams-wise. And then, we’ve come up with some big plays on special teams over the last month.
“Just continuing to play that way, what’s kind of become our way of playing and what a good football team looks like. I think it’s taking that and being able to execute at that level Friday night because the game Friday night’s going to come down to who makes the most mistakes because that’s what’s going to dictate the big plays in the ballgame. That’s the way it always happens with two really good football teams.
“We’ve got some great experience with the wins over the last month. It prepares us very well for this game.”
Houston feels good about recruiting efforts during the bye week in the midst of a changing landscape.
“We saw all of our committed kids, and they remained very firm,” he said. “We’ve extended quite a few other offers out there. I’m just telling you, you don’t have any clue what the next two months are going to look like because the NCAA is taking basically all the rules off. It’s just going to be crazy in December and January. Everybody in the country is basically going to build their roster for next year over the next two months. So, I think we stand solid right now where, traditionally, recruiting stands, but it’s going to be a wild off season.
The NCAA has removed restrictions.
“They’ve taken away the one-time transfer rule to where anybody can transfer anywhere and be eligible immediately,” Houston said. “They’ve taken off the restrictions on a lot of the limits and stuff for the number of kids that you can talk to or bring on visits and things like that. You combine all that with name and image likeness (NIL) money. … You’ve got to put a big emphasis on making sure your guys are solid, and then put an emphasis on finding what you need. But it’s going to change everything. What it’s resulted in is a lot of high school kids are being left out because some programs are not going after as many high school players.”
Kickoff for Senior Day/Night
ECU’s kickoff time for its final home game of 2022 on Saturday, Nov. 19, against Houston is in a 6-day window for television. Start time and network probably will be released late Saturday.