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USF football: Five things to know about East Carolina

No, the Pirates aren’t great this season, but they have more fight than last year’s bunch.
East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers (12) throws during the second half Saturday against UCF. The Pirates scored 22 second-half points in a 41-28 defeat. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]
Published Oct. 22

A quick look at East Carolina (3-4, 0-3), which hosts USF (3-4, 1-2) Saturday at 3:45 p.m. in Greenville, N.C.

1. These guys beat UCF … for a half

East Carolina running back Demetrius Mauney, left, runs past UCF defensive lineman (and Sickles High alumnus) Anthony Montalvo, right, during the first half of Saturday's game in Orlando. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]

Evan as USF fans ask if their team possesses the resilience needed to keep fighting at this juncture, the Pirates answered those same questions with resounding affirmation in Saturday’s 41-28 loss at UCF. Down 35-6 at halftime, ECU outscored the Knights 22-6 in the second half, outgaining them 322-193 in that span.

“I told them that they were going to be defined by how they responded after halftime,” first-year coach Mike Houston said. “I’ll be honest that the old bunch, from early in this season and last year, it would have been a miserable second half. But that is not the way this bunch has been.”

2. Futrell a force

UCF's Darriel Mack Jr. (8) is tackled by East Carolina's Alex Turner (94) with Kendall Futrell (44) looking on during the first half of last season's game in Greenville. [KARL B DEBLAKER | AP]

Whomever starts at quarterback for USF must be cognizant of Pirates defensive end Kendall Futrell, one of the American Athletic Conference’s more underrated players.

A 6-foot-2, 226-pound senior, Futrell leads the AAC with eight sacks, seven of which have come in his last four games. He recorded five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble at UCF.

MORE BULLS: Saddled with rookie quarterbacks, Charlie Strong challenges USF receivers

3. Be leery of the lefty

East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers, left, scores a touchdown on a 20-yard run as he get past UCF defensive back Antwan Collier last Saturday. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]

The Bulls appear to be catching Pirates 6-foot-3 left-handed sophomore Holton Ahlers just as he’s finding his groove as ECU’s starting quarterback.

Ahlers has thrown for at least 200 yards in each of his last four games, including a season-high 313 yards (23-for-27) at UCF. Though still not the most efficient passer in the league (his 114.6 rating ranks ninth), Ahlers possesses just enough mobility (259 rushing yards, four TDs) to keep opponents honest.

A favorite son of sorts, Ahlers starred at Greenville’s D.H. Conley High, where he became the No. 3 all-time passer in North Carolina prep history (11,198 yards). A former Conley teammate, freshman C.J. Johnson, has emerged as Ahlers’ top target this season (27 catches, 314 yards, two TDs).

4. A nod to history

Houston, who won a Division I-AA national title at James Madison in 2016, quickly endeared himself to the ECU fan base in part by bringing at least two familiar ― and popular ― faces with him to Greenville.

Donnie Kirkpatrick, Houston’s offensive coordinator at JMU, was a Pirates offensive assistant under both Skip Holtz and Ruffin McNeill during a stretch (2005-15) when ECU won a pair of Conference USA crowns and reached eight bowl games.

Houston also brought along his offensive line coach, Steve Shankweiler, who held the same job in three previous stints in Greenville including 1991, when ECU (11-1) finished ninth nationally and made the Peach Bowl.

The Pirates, incidentally, have allowed 14 sacks in seven contests after surrendering 34 last season. They’re also gaining more yards per play (5.3) than in 2018 (5.0).

5. If it comes down to a kick…

East Carolina's Jake Verity (9) kicks a field goal in the closing seconds for the team's only score during the second half of last season's 58-3 loss at N.C. State. [CHRIS SEWARD | AP]

If the oddsmakers’ projections play out (USF currently is listed as a one-point favorite), this one may very well come down to a field goal, which bodes brightly for East Carolina.

Junior Jake Verity has attempted (18) and converted (14) more field goals than any other American Athletic Conference kicker this season, and has hit 33 of 39 since the start of 2018. Though he has missed his only two attempts from beyond 50 yards this year, he’s 3-for-4 from 40-49 yards, and has converted all 14 of his PATs.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Third-year USF men's basketball coach Brian Gregory added two players during the NCAA's week-long early signing period. [Times files]
    The Nigeria native with the elongated wingspan becomes the Bulls’ second signee in a week
  2. Memphis quarterback Brady White (3) and freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell (19) lead one of the nation's most potent offenses into Raymond James Stadium on Saturday. SUE OGROCKI  |  AP
    The Tigers average a conference-best 7.2 yards per play.
  3. USF center Shae Leverett, right, reaches for a loose ball with Baylor guard DiDi Richards, left, in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 58-46. ROD AYDELOTTE  |  AP
    Poor shooting ultimately dooms the No. 22 Bulls, who were within a point midway through the third quarter.
  4. USF senior tight end Mitch Wilcox has 97 career receptions and 11 touchdown catches. MIKE CARLSON  |  AP
    The Tarpon Springs High alumnus is a prominent 2020 NFL draft prospect.
  5. USF placekicker Spencer Shrader (32) watches his missed field goal against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The Bulls have expressed support for the Newsome High alumnus since his four missed field goals Saturday.
  6. USF Bulls guard Elisa Pinzan (4) drive to the basket past Jacksonville Dolphins guard Mariah Batz (13) during the first half at the Yuengling Center in Tampa. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The contest in Waco highlights yet another daunting non-conference Bulls schedule.
  7. Cincinnati running back Michael Warren II (3) barrels through USF's defense for a first down during the fourth quarter of the Bearcats' 20-17 win Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls and Bearcats will continue meeting on a home-and-home basis through at least 2021. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times] OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    For now, USF retains home-and-home matchups with four East Division foes
  8. USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) leaps to avoid UCF defensive back Mike Hughes (19) and during the second half of the Knights' 49-42 triumph in Orlando in 2017. This year's game, also at Orlando's Spectrum Stadium, kicks off at 8 p.m. on Nov. 29. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
    The game hasn’t kicked off in the evening since 2015
  9. USF Bulls place kicker Spencer Shrader (32) misses the field goal to take the lead over the Cincinnati Bearcats during the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The Bulls miss four field goals of their own in a 20-17 loss.
  10. USF running back Jordan Cronkrite, center, is tackled by Cincinnati linebacker Joel Dublanko during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Saturday night. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Journal: The University of Florida transfer now is among USF’s top 10 rushers of all time.
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