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ECU Hopes to Generate Some Success In Tampa Against USF

ECU head coach Mike Houston and the Pirates travel to Tampa to take on USF Saturday night at 7 pm.
ECU head coach Mike Houston and the Pirates travel to Tampa to take on USF Saturday night at 7 pm. ( photo)

In a game where both teams will be looking for their first win of the season, ECU travels to Raymond James Stadium Saturday night for a 7 o’clock tilt with USF.

Both teams enter this week at 0-2 and 0-1 in American Athletic Conference play.

The Pirates continue to tinker offensively to try to find the right recipe for success and are in dire need of a victory. Last week, all of ECU’s points came from either special teams play or defensive interceptions. While ECU was close on several occasions to cracking the code, they were unable to find points from under center.

Holton Ahlers passed for 242 yards, but endured a heavy defensive rush for much of the game at Georgia State. That made it tougher to find receivers and helped contribute to three interceptions all told.

Tyler Snead and Blake Proehl both hauled in eleven pass catches each for 194 combined yards in a losing cause, but the rushing game struggled for much of the day. Afterward, Ahlers commented on the team’s loss.

“It’s disappointing. It starts with me,” said Ahlers after Saturday’s loss at Georgia State, “I came here to win games and that’s what we’ve got to do.”

This week, Mike Houston will look to get the Pirates over the hump. To do so, ECU would benefit greatly from experiencing some early offensive success and use that to gain some much needed confidence. This week represents a good opportunity to pick up the first win of the season.

Houston talked about what to expect from USF on Saturday.

“I think South Florida, just like we saw last year because they have a lot of the same guys back from last year, has good size, really good team speed on both sides of the ball and at skill positions. Defensively, I thought they played very well against Cincinnati. They turned the ball over a lot on offense last week and still held Cincinnati to 28 points,” Houston told during his press conference on Tuesday.

“I think that says a lot about how their defense is coming around. I think you have to kind of throw the Notre Dame game out with as many players they were playing without due to COVID. So, they have kids that played against Notre Dame that aren’t even in the two deep. So, I think you have to toss that game out a little bit.

“They’ve had their issues at quarterback, but they’ve got talent. They’ve got four different quarterbacks that they’ve played. All four are talented players. One transferred from North Carolina. Another is a grad transfer from one of the SWAC schools. Then they’ve got the freshman, No. 12 (Katravis Marsh) and then they’ve got (Jordan) McCloud who played against us last year. No. 12 (Marsh) started against Cincinnati. Obviously just an extremely talented young athlete that is a true freshman and he looked like a true freshman. Really talented, it’s just no different than any other kid in that situation. He has not seen everything that he’s going to see on a down after down deal and he struggles a little bit.

“They played the kid from North Carolina (Cade Fortin), he did some okay things. He looks like a guy that really knows how to operate the offense, a good arm, a pocket guy. But really McCloud, I thought, came in and gave them the best opportunity to score and move the offense down the field against Cincinnati,“ Houston said

“Now obviously, they see those kids everyday so they may have different opinions. I thought he had a better chemistry with his wideouts. His mobility gave you the run threat. I thought he threw the ball better than when he played against us last year, and I thought he played well against us last year. So, I think you’ll see McCloud, but again, I’m the coach at East Carolina, not South Florida.”

The Pirates have been a bit depleted along the offensive line of late and Demetrius Mauney at running back has been out as well. All of them are trying to work their way back. It remains to be seen if they will be ready to go on Saturday.

“D’Ante is our most experience lineman so obviously not having him last week, it’s going to leave a void there. Nishad Strother is a very good player. He’s going to be a really good player. I can’t say enough positive things about him. Whereas Nishad, that was his second college start and he started at two different positions,“ Houston said, “So, just the experience factor is what you miss. D’Ante always has a high motor. So, you have that too. I’ll be glad when he’s back. I do think we’ll have him back fairly soon. I don’t know if it will be by the weekend or not.”

“Noah (Henderson) is progressing. It’s still going to be a while. He’s great with a positive attitude right now. He’s trying to find his role as a supporter of the guys on the field,” said Houston, “I’m really proud of him and the attitude he’s taken with that. Demetrius, he battled some injury stuff, battled some health stuff for a while there. He’s back in the role as far as traveling. He did some good things on special teams there Saturday and so he’s finding his spot.”

Finding ways go get true freshman quarterback some much needed playing time and experience while still taking into account that Holton Ahlers gives the Pirates their most experience under center is a bit of a balancing act.

“He’s very similar to what I was talking about with the South Florida kid. He’s a freshman. It was the first time he’d had a road game in his entire life. His first college snaps ever. Great attitude. Enjoyable kid to be around, working his tail off. He’s getting better every day. We’re getting him as many reps during the week as we can get him,“ Houston told PI..

“We’ll continue to try to get him game reps when the situations arise. At the same time, we’re going out there playing to win and right now, Holton’s experience and Holton’s ability gives us a better chance right now. There will be a day when Mason Garcia is the starting quarterback here. When that day comes, he’ll be ready for it.”

This week’s AAC game between the Pirates and Bulls will be aired on ESPN+. Stay tuned for continuing coverage of USF week here on,