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View from the East
Thursday, November 20, 2014

By Al Myatt

Al Myatt

Two losses set stage for Tulane's arrival

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Saddled with a two-game losing streak under adverse conditions in the rugged American Athletic Conference, East Carolina's football team has been looking forward to returning to competition following a layoff from a Thursday night game at Cincinnati on Nov. 13.

The Pirates resumed practice on Sunday and have had time to put the 54-46 loss to the Bearcats in perspective, a game ECU led 46-45 in the final minute after trailing 38-20 early in the second half.

"It was a disappointing loss to say the least," Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill said. "We did a lot of things right in the game. The fact that we got down and came back and gave ourselves a chance to win the game was a positive. We went into that week making sure we cut down on penalties. We did that."

After getting flagged 12 times for 120 yards in a 20-10 loss at Temple in the preceding contest, ECU drew just five penalties for 38 yards against the Bearcats a significant improvement.

"We took the ball away defensively, four of those (three interceptions and a fumble recovery)," McNeill said. "There were some positive things but we missed some opportunities on all three sides of the ball. I was proud of our team, proud of our staff. Losses are hard, especially when you invest a lot into the work. To come up short in a game like that when you battle back is tough."

Cincinnati was the first team to outgain the Pirates this season. The hosts held a narrow 586-572 edge in total yardage.

Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel completed 29 of 44 for 436 yards and four touchdowns with three picks. Kiel transferred to Cincinnati from Notre Dame.

"He was the top quarterback in the nation coming out of high school," McNeill said. " ... He did a good job of making plays. We knew their quarterback (Kiel and/or backup Munchie Legaux) would have total command of the offense. Their receivers are extremely fast. They had a really good offensive line. That was the thing that stands out about that team.

"I liked the way we battled back in the second half. We made stops and did things we had to do to give us a chance to win on all three sides of the ball. ... Time ran out on us."

The Pirates have met adverse weather conditions in their most recent road games. The temperature was 46 degrees at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, compounded by 15 mile-per-hour wind from the northeast and a steady rain. ECU lost five fumbles and the game despite outgaining the Owls 432-135 in total yards.

It was 27 degrees at kickoff in Cincinnati with southwest winds at seven miles per hour.

"Temple was cold, which didn't really bother us, but the rain and the wind did," McNeill said. "But no excuses, like I've said before. At Cincinnati, we were prepared for it from equipment for the kids to sideline operations (heated benches and blowers) as well. I thought they handled it real well. It wasn't a factor."

The advance forecast is calling clear skies and a relatively-mild high in the low 50s when ECU hosts Tulane on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The Pirates have been looking forward to playing at home again.

"I'm hoping we'll come out in full force," McNeill said. "I'm an alum. This team loves playing for our university. I'm expecting the fans to come out in full force. I could not find a reason why they would not. ... We haven't played at home in 29 days so I'm expecting a full house. It's Military Appreciation Day. I expect the stadium to be full of excitement and electricity."

The Green Wave probably will start redshirt freshman Tanner Lee at quarterback. Senior Nick Montana, son of former NFL great, Joe Montana, is the backup.

"Lee has a strong arm," McNeill said. "They have a lot of receivers. C.J. (Tulane coach Curtis Johnson) is running more of a New Orleans Saints offense, which is where he was with Sean Payton. They use a lot of formations. They'll use a tight end. They distribute the ball very well. He's a young quarterback. He's 144 out of 260, completion, attempts for 1,500-plus yards. He's doing a good job of getting rid of the football."

Tulane stunned the visiting Pirates 36-33 in triple overtime in New Orleans last season as Cairo Santos kicked five field goals.

"We watched the film and saw what they did defensively and offensively last year and learned from that," McNeill said. "Of course, we use it to prepare. They did a good job last year. We had opportunities last year as well. Triple overtime at their place. Tight game and they had a fantastic kicker."

McNeill expects to be without receivers Trevon Brown and Jimmy Williams, who are coming back from injuries, as the Pirates look to get back into the win column.

TV notes: The ECU-Tulane game will be carried by ESPN3. The American Athletic Conference and ESPN have posted that ECU's matchup at Tulsa on Friday, Nov. 28, will be televised on ESPNU with an 8:30 p.m. kickoff.

E-mail Al Myatt

PAGE UPDATED 11/20/14 02:28 PM.

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