Football Practice

The Pirates football team during practice.

The East Carolina University football team (2-6, 1-3 AAC) will be in action for the first time in two weeks on Saturday when it faces the University of Houston down in Texas.

Both teams will put winning streaks on the line after the Pirates handled Brigham Young University on homecoming night, while the Cougars took down nationally ranked University of South Florida.

Last month, USF came to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and scored over 60 points on its way to a dominant victory. Since that win, the Bulls had a game cancelled and won their other two, starting 7-0 and getting ranked as high as No. 17.

But last weekend at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, the Bulls fell to the Cougars, 28-24, behind the late-game heroics of Houston’s backup quarterback, D'Eriq King. With under 30 seconds left, King rushed to the endzone from 20 yards away and pulled the upset for Houston putting it at 5-3, 3-2 AAC.

"We kind of got a curveball by King being added to the mix as a quarterback/wide receiver speed-sweep guy," head coach Scottie Montgomery said. "I thought it was a really good strategy. It proved to be great for them and he did a lot of things with his feet, but he also scrambled outside of the pocket on the biggest play of the year from them on 4th-and-20 something and was able to complete a ball down the field."

With the insertion of a mobile quarterback, the Houston rushing attack presents another grueling opponent for an ECU defense who still ranks last in terms of total and scoring defense in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision.

While holding BYU to 421 yards and 17 points helps the defensive totals, the Pirates are still allowing an average of 577.6 yards and 45.9 points per game. So King may be a tough test, but ECU’s defensive coordinator Robert Prunty knows the challenge will be the Pirates’ preparation.

“I’m more concerned about us being ready, and I say us being ready (as in) alignment assignment, sticking with our fundamental techniques and making sure our coverages are in the right spot,” Prunty said. “We have to be ready for anything because we’re dealing with an athletic guy. Thats a big thing in college football now. You talk about Lamar Jackson, (Quinton) Flowers and now this guy pops up.”

On Oct. 14, the Cougars were coming off back-to-back wins against Temple University and Southern Methodist University. But they slept-walked their way through a game against the University of Tulsa and were crushed 45-17.

Other than the brutal loss against Tulsa, Houston has either won or looked competitive against the rest of its opponents this season. The win against USF, along with opening the season with a win at the University of Arizona, are the most impressive on Houston's record. It's the Cougars defense that has kept the team in games. Montgomery has noted the length in the Houston secondary as an issue but notes one even bigger.

"Offensively, our challenge is going to be none other than Ed Oliver in the defensive front. He's a really good football player, a five-start recruit I believe last year, who came in and played at a high, All-American level as a first-year player. He's playing at that same level this year," Montgomery said.

Thomas Sirk and the offense are going to have to make sure they score enough points to win on the road Saturday. Surprisingly, playing on the road has been a strength for the Pirates, going 1-1 so far this season. Houston is 2-2 while defending its home-field.

With a win, the Pirates would record their first back-to-back wins in the Montgomery era since they opened up last season with wins against Western Carolina and North Carolina State. So, with criticism of the football program at ECU growing each week, starting a win streak and keeping bowl eligibility alive would be huge for Greenville.

“If we can (win), which I believe we can, that’ll be a big turnover for this program,” inside linebacker Aaron Ramseur said. “Pride will keep building up and everyone will be ready to be prepared and come back to practice Sunday with the right mentality.”

Kickoff for Saturday is scheduled for 11 a.m. CT, Texas’ local time, which correlates to 12 p.m. in Greenville. The game will be aired on CBS Sports Network.

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