Know the Foe: East Carolina
A look at East Carolina, which faces USF on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium
Record: 2-3 (0-1 American Athletic Conference)
Wins: Western Carolina 52-7, N.C. State 33-30
Losses: at South Carolina 20-15, at Virginia Tech 54-17, UCF 47-29
Coach: Scottie Montgomery (first season, 2-3)
The breakdown: After flourishing out of the gate in Montgomery's West Coast offense, the Pirates have committed 10 turnovers during their three-game skid, including five in Saturday's loss to UCF. Currently, they rank 127th out of 128 Division I teams in turnover margin (minus-1.80). Their hopes this weekend could hinge on QB Philip Nelson, a Minnesota transfer who ranks seventh nationally with 350.6 passing yards per game. Nelson exited the UCF game after taking a blow to the helmet (which drew a targeting whistle), but isn't on the Pirates' injury report. It was hardly the latest shot he has taken; ECU ranks 110th nationally by allowing 3.2 sacks a contest. Perhaps not coincidentally, ECU has used four different starting o-line combinations in five games. When healthy, Nelson's favorite target -- by far -- is 6-foot-1 senior Zay Jones, who leads the country with 13.2 receptions per contest. Defensively, the Pirates -- who run a 4-3 base scheme -- rank 81st nationally by allowing 172.8 yards a game. Saturday, they face a squad with the nation's longest current streak of games (10) with 200 or more rushing yards.
Odds and ends: ECU has been outscored 71-13 in the first half of its last three games. ... The Pirates rank last in the American Athletic Conference in both net punting (32.5 yards per attempt) and punt returns (minus-0.17 yards per attempt). ... Montgomery was the Pittsburgh Steelers receivers coach when they drubbed the Bucs, 38-13, at Raymond James on Sept. 26, 2010. All three Steelers TDs were via reception. ... Pirates secondary coach Rick Smith arrived with Skip Holtz from ECU and worked in the same capacity with the Bulls from 2010-12 before going back to Greenville. ECU receivers coach Phil McGeoghan had the same job at USF from 2009-11. ... The Pirates roster has seven players from Florida, but none from the bay area.
Willie Taggart's take: "(Jones) is one of the best receivers I've ever seen in this conference in a while. Strong hands. They're gonna find a way to get him the ball and the kid doesn't drop many at all. ... We've got to know where he's at at all times and do a great job of tackling him. The quarterback, Nelson, is a really good football player. He understands their offense and where he needs to go with the football, and he does a great job distributing the ball among all those guys."