East Carolina Football prepares for their game against UCONN

With the American Athletic Conference all shaken up, East Carolina University must now prepare to face the University of Connecticut this upcoming Sunday. To kick off AAC conference play, ECU has an odd chance to be tied for first place in conference with a win.

Originally the game between the Huskies and Pirates was scheduled to take place in November, but due to Hurricane Irma, it was pushed forward to Sunday as both the Florida teams in the conference are trying to make up postponed games. This allows both teams to have an extra day of preparation leading up to their matchup.

The Pirates head up to Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut, winless, looking to secure their first win against the Huskies. With a chance to be tied for first on the east side of the AAC division, there’s extra motivation to start winning for the Pirates. After back-to-back 50 plus point beatdowns from West Virginia and Virginia Tech, ECU must not take UConn lightly, though the Huskies lost last year in their matchup 41-3.

“We’re looking at a good football team coming off of a tough loss to the University of Virginia, so I understand that they will be chomping at the bit to get going against us,” head coach Scottie Montgomery said in his weekly press conference. “I think coach (Billy) Crocker has done a good job. Last year, he was one of the best defensive coordinators in the entire country. He’s bringing in his scheme to UConn and their body types fit well.”

UConn faced a tough loss to the University of Virginia 38-18, falling to 1-1 on the season. The Huskies were not able to score until the second half while turning the ball over three times.

Though the Huskies’ offensive output may look similar to the Pirates, the Huskies standout with their plethora of running backs. In the backfield Connecticut has Arkeel Newsome, Nate Hopkins and Bryant Shirreffs, all whom can present problems to ECU’s defense. The trio had a combined 154 yards in their last game.

“On offense, the quarterback is the guy that leads this football team. Bryant Shirreffs is a good football player. I think their running back duo No. 22 (Arkeel Newsome) and No. 11 (Nate Hopkins) are kind of big and powerful,” Montgomery said. “Then quick and fast is their third-leading carrier, the quarterback, so that lets you know what they want to do with the football.”

The defense for UConn is also similar to that of WVU, as Montgomery expects the Huskies to come out in the same defensive formation, a 3-3 stack, where six players will be close to the line of scrimmage in order to bring extra pressure. Expect for the back side defensive end, Tre Bell, to add pressure to Thomas Sirk, who is back in the starting lineup.

“Being able to go against West Virginia, their defense has really given us the ability to see some of the things that UConn can do to us this week,” Montgomery said.

ECU’s offense will be on the field but with Sirk leading the way. After missing the game against Virginia Tech, Sirk will head into the game healthier and more prepared than he was in his first start with an extra week to game plan.

Sirk has had ups and downs as quarterback for the Pirates, tossing four interceptions in the first three games. Montgomery said with Sirk leading the offense, it presents the Pirates with a chance to open up the run game.

“It changes our game plan a little bit and it also changes how the defense will play us a lot,” quarterback coach Tony Peterson said. “(Sirk) being somebody that can throw the ball very well, now their defense will have to cover everything.”

The Pirates are also changing the way they practice in preparation for the game against UConn. Montgomery informed his players he wanted them to go live in practice, or play at 100 percent. He expects this new way of conducting practice will make his athletes play harder in the game Sunday.

“So all in all, we are going against a good football team. We are really excited and anxious to get to conference play,” Montgomery said. “We know that all of our goals that we set forth at the beginning of the year had nothing to do with the first three games of the year; they had everything to do with the conference play.”

ECU takes on UConn, to kickoff the AAC at noon Sunday in Hartford, Connecticut. The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU. With a chance to take a claim of first place in the conference, expect the Pirates to be fired up.

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