Holton Ahlers

ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers surveys the coverage downfield.

On the road for the second week in a row, the East Carolina University football team (0-2, 0-1 AAC) will travel to Tampa, Florida to challenge the University of South Florida (1-2, 0-1 AAC) on Oct. 10 at 7 p.m.

The Pirates continue to look for their first win of the season after losing back-to-back games by at least 20 points. The season opener was spoiled by the University of Central Florida (2-1, 1-1 AAC) with a final score of 51-28 and the first road game of the season was a loss to Georgia State University (1-1, 0-1 SBC) last week with a final score of 49-29.

USF is coming off of a 28-7 loss in a conference match-up against the University of Cincinnati (3-0, 1-0 AAC). Earlier this season, USF was shut out against the University of Notre Dame (2-0, 1-0), losing 52-0. The only win for the Bulls came against The Citadel (0-3, 0-0 SoCon), with a final score of 27-6.

While the Pirates have yet to win a game in the 2020 season, the conference matchup against USF presents an opportunity to move up in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) ranks. Both teams are on a two-game loss streak and currently sit at the bottom of the ranks. ECU head coach Mike Houston said the Pirates’ failures to this point of the season are not due to a lack of effort from players.

“The one thing that really does piss me off is when people take shots at the kids,” Houston said. “Because if there is any group that it’s not their fault and they’re trying very hard to do what we’re asking them to do and they want to go out and play at a high level, it’s our players.”

The quarterback matchup between the two teams pits junior quarterback Holton Alhers against the Bulls’ sophomore quarterback Jordan McCloud. The Bulls did play a number of quarterbacks in last week’s loss to Cincinnati, but McCloud saw more snaps than the rest of the Bulls quarterbacks. Houston recognizes the Bulls’ struggles at the position, but also said the Bulls have a talented group at the quarterback position.

“They’ve had their issues at quarterback,” Houston said. “They’ve got talent, they’ve got four different quarterbacks they’ve played, all four are talented players. One transferred from North Carolina, another one a grad transfer from one of the SWAC schools and then they’ve got the freshman number 12 and then they got McCloud who played against us last year.”

McCloud has only thrown one touchdown on the season and has only thrown for 269 yards in three games. USF has had a rotation of four quarterbacks who have played this season and has had a combined 435 passing yards.

Ahlers has thrown for 451 yards and three touchdowns in two games, surpassing all of USF’s quarterbacks combined. Alhers has added four interceptions to his stats list in comparison to McCloud’s two. For the Pirates, Alhers has been under duress in the pocket, resulting in several interceptions and six sacks so far this season.

The number of sacks so far this season are a direct result of the Pirates having some issues up front on the offensive line and coach Houston said these issues are a result of inexperience and growing pains within the group.

"I wouldn't say not knowing what to do as much as having experience doing it,” Houston said. “What I mean by that, Nishad Strother has played three different positions in two weeks and just a normal person might say going from right guard to right tackle to left tackle is not a big deal. It still is different, there are different things and you work with a different guy. I think there's some of that.”

ECU has two players with over 100 receiving yards already this season. Sophomore receiver Tyler Snead leads the Pirates with 113 yards on 13 catches and adds a receiving touchdown to his stat list. Behind him is junior receiver Blake Proehl who has 107 yards on 13 receptions.

Graduate student receiver DeVontres Dukes is the leading receiver for USF with 100 yards on eight catches. He also has the only passing touchdown on the team.

Running the football seems to be a priority for the Bulls. According to their stats, USF has two running backs with over 20 carries on the season, both with over 100 yards. Sophomore running back Johnny Ford leads the team with 153 yards on 24 carries, and sophomore running back Kelly Joiner is right behind him with 129 yards on 28 carries.

The Pirates don’t have a single running back with over 20 carries, but the best production in the back field has come from freshman running back Keaton Mitchell. He leads the team with 66 rushing yards on 9 carries.

ECU will continue to look for the first win of the season in Tampa, Florida this weekend. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m on ESPN+.

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