East Carolina will try to make it three straight against in-state rival N.C. State when the two teams tangle Saturday afternoon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville. Both teams won their season openers with big victories over FCS opponents. Now, it is time to get back to reality before the Pirates and Wolfpack get into their conference schedules.
The last time the two teams met was in 2013, and it was not a good day for the Wolfpack faithful. The Pirates went to Raleigh and led by QB Shane Carden, defeated the Wolfpack 42-28. New ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery is looking for the same outcome Saturday.
The Pirates were impressive in their opener beating Western Carolina 52-7. Montgomery’s offense, led by the somewhat controversial Minnesota transfer Philip Nelson, racked up 688 yards of total offense. Nelson was masterful as he threw for 398 yards and five touchdowns. He also scored once on the ground.
East Carolina also proved to be effective in the running game as Anthony Scott rushed 11 times for 120 yards and James Summers (10 carries, 95 yards) nearly eclipsed the 100-yard mark. The Pirates rushed for 275 yards as a team and if they can do that Saturday, the Wolfpack are in trouble.
N.C. State had an easy time with William & Mary last week, beating the Tribe 48-14 behind a transfer quarterback of their own, former Boise State starter Ryan Finley. Finley was equally efficient in the Wolfpack’s first game completing 17-of-21 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Head coach Dave Doeren’s offense also had success on the ground behind senior RB Matt Dayes who rushed for 138 yards and two scores.
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The difference on Saturday will come down to defense. Last season, Doeren’s defensive unit faltered over the final six games on the schedule. The Wolfpack allowed an average of 37.2 points in those six games. East Carolina is no defensive power either, but they have switched to a more aggressive 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson. While they held Western Carolina to just seven points, the question remains as to whether they can play with legitimate FBS programs.
An X-factor could be East Carolina WR Zay Jones. One of the nation’s most underrated receivers, Jones finished last season with 98 receptions for 1,099 yards and five touchdowns. All he did last week was start the 2016 season with 10 receptions for 180 yards and a score.