Darius Pinnix

 ECU running back Darrius Pinnix fights off several defenders to gain an extra yard.

With the 2020 college football season approaching, East Carolina University’s football team has begun it’s off-season preparation in the wake of ECU’s start of phase one for its student-athlete return plan.

The Pirate football squad, in its second season led by head coach Mike Houston, will start its 2020 campaign with a slew of non-conference opponents. Not unlike last season or any season of the last decade, the Pirates will play a relatively regional non-conference schedule as they pull opponents from surrounding states. The first two games of the 2020 slate should be highlighted and should get Pirate fans up and ready for college football’s return.

To start, the Pirates will host Marshall University on Aug. 29 as a part of college football’s week zero schedule. The return of the former Conference USA (C-USA) rival is more than just a revival of the history on the field, but will also serve as a remembrance of the infamous plane crash that took the lives of 37 Marshall football players 50 years ago.

The last time the Pirates and the Thundering Herd crossed paths was in 2013, when ECU travelled to Huntington, West Virginia and the Pirates took a 59-28 throttling from the Herd squad. In that seven year span, ECU has parted ways with two head football coaches, two athletic directors and has run the gamut as it pertains to finding stability at the quarterback position.

Having not seen each other since East Carolina joined the American Athletic Conference (AAC) and left Marshall behind in C-USA in 2014, the Pirates may have attained an advantage. Many would consider the AAC to offer a recruiting boost in comparison to C-USA. The Pirates should offer a level of talent that Marshall can’t match on the field.

An area of the field that the Pirates could struggle with against the Thundering Herd is their defensive front. With Jalen Price and Alex Turner both using up their final years of eligibility last season, the Pirates will be introducing new talent to the position and were already allowing an absurd number of yards on the ground last season. Marshall’s ground attack was stellar last year, averaging 193.4 rush yards per game. The Pirates allowed 207.8.

The Pirates will return with an offense that put up excellent numbers late last season. Marshall allowed an average of 25 points per game last season, which should play greatly in favor of ECU’s offense which averaged 26.8 points per game.

Pirate fans should also expect that 26.8 mark to hover around 30 this season as the offense will return junior quarterback Holton Ahlers, junior wide receiver Blake Proehl and sophomore wide receivers C.J. Johnson and Tyler Snead.

Expect this football game to be reminiscent of the squad’s 2012 double overtime matchup when the Pirates won 65-59 on the back of a clutch performance by former quarterback Shane Carden. Ahlers and the Pirate offense will outduel the Thundering Herd in a premier matchup as one of the earliest games for the 2020 season.

After a victory against Marshall the Pirates will ride the high horse to Columbia, South Carolina on Sept. 12 where they’ll take on a less than impressive University of South Carolina Gamecocks team. Yes, they did take down a very talented top five ranked University of Georgia last season, but that was a fluke if anything. Rainy conditions tend to be the great equalizer in football and the Gamecocks matchup with the Bulldogs last season was plagued by it.

Unfortunately for the Pirates, South Carolina will have been at home against Coastal Carolina University the week before they come to town. This will allow for the Gamecocks to be rested and prepared for the Pirates after likely dismantling a fairly new Division 1 competitor in the Chanticleers.

Don’t expect the Gamecocks to appear flawless, though, as last season's squad only won four games, the bulk of which came in the form of three wins earned during conference play in the South Eastern Conference (SEC). The Pirate offense is far above average and will prove that statement to be true this season, but much like the rain, an SEC defense tends to be a great equalizer.

South Carolina only allowed 23 passing touchdowns in the 2019 season. For reference, the national champion Louisiana State University Tigers only allowed 20 touchdowns through the air last season.

A quality defense that matches up well with the Pirates’ offense will shut down a great deal of the production on the offensive side of the ball for the Pirates. Expect one of the worst performances from the Pirates and Ahlers in a low scoring loss to the Gamecocks.

Losses happen, the 2020 Pirate football squad will not go from 4-8 to 12-0 overnight. Regardless, this Pirate squad will show great improvement and Pirate fans will take notice over the course of the first two matchups of the season.

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