East Carolina will be fighting for its season Saturday, as it begins its three-game gauntlet in hopes of making a bowl game, beginning with Southern Methodist Saturday inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Military Appreciation Day.

SMU (4-5, 2-3 American Athletic Conference) is also chasing a bowl game, and appears to have a better chance than the Pirates. The Mustangs showed their potential, as they managed to knock AAC favorite Houston off of its high horse earlier this season.

Prior to last Saturday, the Mustangs were riding a two-game winning streak before the Memphis Tigers rained on their parade in a whopping 51-7 beat down that put SMU under .500 for the season.

“[SMU’s] record may not display how close they’ve been, I think this last week was just an anomaly,” said ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery. “You see certain games where things don’t go your way early, and I think that’s what happened to them”

One thing SMU cannot seem to get consistently going is its offense. Averaging barely 24 points per game behind quarterback Ben Hicks and being outscored by 75 points on the season, the Mustangs rely on a two-headed rushing attack featuring Braeden West and Ke’Mon Freeman. Both backs average over four yards a carry and are complemented by SMU’s monster receiver Courtland Sutton.

“[Courtland] Sutton is probably one of the biggest, strongest players that we’ve seen at the position,” said Montgomery. “He’s an extreme talent.”

Sutton boasts 45 catches for 768 yards and five touchdowns on the season, which makes for a good matchup with ECU’s corners — especially 6-foot-4 Bobby Fulp, calling for a physical meeting. Look for ECU to try to produce a pass rush and stop the run to make this game competitive.

Defensively, the Mustangs provide big players in the trenches and have recorded 14 interceptions, but are still allowing almost 33 points per game.

“The best part about [the Mustangs’] defense is their front four,” ECU offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said. “They play zone and try to stay in front of you and make you earn it.”

Justin Lawler, the face of the Mustang’s defensive line, is leading the team in tackles and sacks with 54 and six, respectively. Behind Lawler, SMU’s next three leading tacklers are all defensive backs, showing a weakness in its run defense.

James Summers didn’t manage to go over 100 yards rushing for the Pirates last weekend, marking the first time since being proclaimed the starting running back role weeks ago. It’s integral the running game gets going for ECU to help relieve some stress off of the quarterback.

“We’ve got to run the football better, and we didn’t do that last week,” said Petersen. “We got behind early, we got behind by a lot, we got into a matchup where we started throwing the ball more than we would like to. We have to be able to run the ball.”

The Pirates will look to find success in the running game to free up Zay Jones and get him going early. With 20 catches, a feat he’s done in two separate games this season, Jones will take reign as the FBS leader in receptions.

The Pirates will look to keep bowl hopes alive for one more week, and improve to 4-1 at home on Saturday at noon.

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