Know the Foe: East Carolina
A look at East Carolina, which hosts USF on Saturday in Greenville, N.C.
Record: 4-5, 2-3 in American Athletic Conference
Wins: 28-20 vs. Towson, 35-28 vs. Virginia Tech, 49-23 at SMU, 30-17 vs. Tulsa
Losses: 31-24 at Florida, 45-21 at Navy, 45-38 at BYU, 24-14 vs. Temple, 31-13 at Connecticut
Coach: Ruffin McNeill (sixth season, 42-32)*
The breakdown: The Pirates' record belies their collective skill level. So why are they struggling for bowl eligibility? A minus-8 turnover margin has been a culprit, but so has a two-quarterback offense sputtering mightily. A meaningless fourth-period touchdown last weekend at UConn snapped a streak of five consecutive quarters without an offensive TD. Whether McNeill continues employing dual threat James Summers (916 total yards) and classmate Blake Kemp (1,878 passing yards, minus-44 rushing yards) remains unclear, though Kemp threw three interceptions in the last 17 minutes at UConn. Regardless of who's running the offense, 6-foot-1 junior Isaiah Jones (70 receptions) is the top target, complemented by 6-6, 258-pound TE Bryce Williams (41 catches, 417 yards). Defensively, the Pirates' 3-4 is anchored by a fleet set of linebackers. Junior SLB Montese Overton ranks second in the conference with 7.5 sacks; and senior MLB Zeek Bigger, the AAC's 2014 tackles leader, has a team-best 69 this season. No Pirates outside 'backer or defensive end is shorter than 6-1. Perhaps not coincidentally, ECU has knocked down 21 passes in its last five games. "When they bring those (outside) guys, you're going against some really high-quality skill players with the pass rush," Bulls offensive line coach Danny Hope said. "So the front poses some challenges 'cause their inside guys...are very big, and their outside linebackers are very, very athletic and fast."
Odds and ends: This will be ECU's 10th consecutive game without a bye. Its open date is next weekend. ... The Pirates haven't lost at home in November since 2011. ... Jones has caught at least one pass in 32 consecutive contests. ... Opponents are averaging 6.2 yards on first down against ECU, a promising stat for a Bulls team now diversifying its first down play-calling.
Taggart's take: "They're a talented group that can make some things happen. I know up front, their guys are bigger than Navy, more athletic. And linebackers, they can run, very athletic, they can run fast. ... They remind me a lot of our team. Just very athletic, and they know how to win."
*-Includes Alamo Bowl victory on Jan. 2, 2010, while interim coach at Texas Tech