Coaches study what works against opposing teams. In that regard, East Carolina will pay attention to what enabled Texas Christian to knock off Michigan, 51-45, in the College Football Playoff semifinals in the Fiesta Bowl to conclude last season for the Wolverines.
Offensively, the Horned Frogs got a Herculean effort from quarterback Max Duggan, who had two touchdowns rushing and two touchdowns passing.
ECU opens the 2023 season at Michigan on Sept. 2 at noon.
The Pirates are expected to start sophomore Mason Garcia at quarterback although junior Alex Flinn opened some eyes in the spring game. Garcia has seen limited action as a back-up to Holton Ahlers since arriving at ECU prior to the 2020 season.
Duggan was a back-up at TCU at the outset of 2022 but moved into a starting role with an injury to Chandler Morris.
Like Duggan, Garcia is being counted on for his run-pass skills.
Pirates coach Mike Houston likes to establish the run, but the ground attack will have some holes to fill with the departure of elusive speedster Keaton Mitchell, only one starting offensive lineman returning and a new offensive line coach, Allen Mogridge.
Running back Rahjai Harris returns from knee surgery and Marlon Gunn Jr. is expected to back him up after a promising freshman season.
If ECU can run at Michigan, it would shorten the game and limit possessions for the Wolverines, who are 5-touchdown favorites. The hosts won’t be inclined to take it easy on ECU since they plan to start a season-long process of positioning for their third straight trip to the playoffs.
ECU athletic director Jon Gilbert announced the scheduling of the game at Michigan in October of 2019 with a contracted payout of $1.8 million. The Pirates went on to finish 4-8 that year in Houston’s first season in Greenville. Houston took over a program that had gone 3-9 the previous three seasons.
Both of the Labor Day weekend combatants have improved in recent years. ECU went 7-5 in 2021 and received a berth in the Military Bowl although the matchup with Boston College was subsequently canceled due to COVID issues with the Eagles.
The Pirates are coming off an 8-5 season that concluded with a 53-29 triumph over Coastal Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl. The depth that Houston has sought to build and results from the transfer portal will be challenged as only three starters are back on offense.
The strength of the team may be the defensive front, which returns intact. Safeties Julius Wood and Teagan Wilk are back with starting experience.
Michigan has six starters back on offense and seven on defense.
Quarterback J.J. McCarthy returns for the Wolverines after completing 208 of 322 passes as a sophomore for 2,719 yards with 22 touchdowns and five interceptions.
The listed capacity of Michigan Stadium, also known as “The Big House,” is 107,601. The Pirates have never played in a bigger venue.
The range of prices for the ECU game through StubHub goes up to $3,150 for one ticket on the 50-yard line above the Pirates’ sideline.
ECU’s season opener will be streamed on Peacock, which has a monthly subscription for $4.99.
Herd on deck
Michigan leads off a demanding nonconference schedule.
Marshall is coming to ECU in Week Two. The Thundering Herd started 4-4 in 2022 with a 26-21 win at Notre Dame the second week. The Herd won their last five, including a 28-14 Myrtle Beach Bowl victory over Connecticut to go 9-4.
Quarterback Cam Fancher is among six returning starters on offense. There are three returning starters on defense and a new coordinator, Jason Semore.
Marshall hosts Albany in its opener.
In the last meeting with the Herd on Sept.18, 2021, ECU came from 17 points down for a 42-38 road win.
The game is slated for a 4 p.m. kickoff on Sept. 9, and will be shown on ESPNU.
Venture to App
The Pirates make their first trip to Boone to play Appalachian State since 1979 on Sept. 16 (ESPN+, 3:30 p.m.).
The last meeting in Charlotte to start the 2021 season resulted in a 33-19 win for the Mountaineers, who had a 226-86 lead in rushing yards.
App State was 6-6 in 2022 and missed playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2014.
Freshman quarterback Ryan Burger is the top candidate to replace Chase Brice, who is among seven starters on offense who won’t be back.
The Mountaineers host Gardner-Webb and play at North Carolina before taking on the Pirates.
The Bulldogs return to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium after a 48-9 setback in the second game of the 2019 season, Houston’s first win at ECU.
The Sept. 23 kickoff is at 6 p.m. and will air on ESPN+.
G-W was 5-0 in the Big South Conference last year and reached the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs before falling 54-14 at William & Mary.
Senior defensive lineman Ty French of the Bulldogs is a preseason FCS All-American.
Former Pack, UNC players on staff
New offensive line coach Allen Mogridge and new offensive analyst Shane Montgomery will be working together at ECU.
Mogridge played multiple positions at UNC while Montgomery was a quarterback at N.C. State.
Wonder if the duo will bet a biscuit when the Tar Heels visit the Wolfpack on Nov. 25?
The Pirates will host Tulsa for Senior Day to close the regular season on Nov. 24 or 25.