With the East Carolina University football team getting a much needed bye week to regroup following a rough few weeks in the American Athletic Conference, the Pirates will face another tough AAC test against the University of Memphis on Saturday at noon in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Memphis (4-4, 1-3 AAC) will come into Greenville with fond memories of facing the Pirates, as the Tigers defeated ECU in an embarrassing 70-13 beatdown in the Pirates’ season finale last season. That loss prompted head coach Scottie Montgomery to make a bold guarantee: The Pirates would make the postseason in 2018.
The Pirates now sit at 2-5, including 0-4 in the AAC, and appear to be a longshot at fulfilling Montgomery’s guarantee. ECU, however, will not be facing the same Memphis team which embarrassed them less than a year ago as they stand at just 4-4 this season, winning just one of it’s four AAC games thus far and losing each of its four road contests.
The Pirates will have to contain Memphis running back Darrell Henderson, who has been named a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award. The award is given to “the all around collegiate player of the year,” Cleveland Browns’ quarterback Baker Mayfield was the last winner, and Henderson is one of just 20 semifinalists. Henderson currently has 1,148 yards rushing on the year, good for second in the nation, and has an impressive average of 10.1 yards per carry. He also has 15 total touchdowns on the season.
Hoping to help stop the Memphis rushing attack will be senior defensive end Nate Harvey, who has been a monster in opponents’ backfields all season after being switched to the defensive side of the ball during the offseason. Harvey currently leads the nation in tackles for loss with 18.5 in just seven games, and has also shown the ability to rush the passer with nine sacks. He will be a key factor in stopping Henderson who averages 143.5 yards per game on the ground.
The Pirates will get another look at freshman quarterback Holton Ahlers who started for the first time in his career against No. 9 University of Central Florida on Oct. 20 before ECU’s bye week. Ahlers showed promise in his first start, throwing for 406 yards and a touchdown while also leading the Pirates with 69 yards rushing.
Ahlers also made multiple mistakes which is expected of a freshman, coming away with one interception and two fumbles, while also getting sacked three times. Montgomery and his team will look for Ahlers to continue to make plays, but also try to be safer with the ball against Memphis.
The Pirates hope for an improved running game this week, as the run game has been nearly non-existent thus far this season. Compared to the 1,148 yards Henderson has been able to gain for Memphis, ECU has gotten little production from the running back position, as Ahlers leads the Pirates in rushing as a quarterback with 317 yards on the season. The Pirates’ leading rusher from the running back position, senior Anthony Scott, has just 254 yards on 75 carries, good for just 3.4 yards per carry.
ECU will hope Montgomery and his team can right the ship against Memphis, and possibly help garner more support from frustrated students and fans as the season draws closer to an end.