ECU vs. Ohio: Who has the edge?

December 22, 2013 

When East Carolina has the ball

Rushing: The Pirates rank 101st in the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing yards per contest (128.3), but that number is not necessarily an indictment of their ground game. They run a pass-heavy Air Raid offense, the rushing numbers always are going to lag.

Senior running back Vintavious Cooper (995 yards, 11 touchdowns) is on the verge of his second straight 1,000-yard season and is running behind a quality offensive line that will collide with Ohio’s defense, led by middle linebacker Ben Russell, which ranks 78th against the run (180.2 yards per game).

Edge: East Carolina

Passing: ECU’s bread and butter is the passing game. Led by quarterback Shane Carden (3,866 yards, 32 touchdowns), the Pirates boast the nation’s 10th-best passing attack (331.5 yards per game) and score a 10th-best 40.4 points per game. Including receiver Justin Hardy (1,218, 8 touchdowns), Carden has plenty of weapons.

Ohio’s All-Mid-American Conference cornerbacks Devin Bass (second team) and Travis Carrie (third team) are the strength of the Bobcats’ defense and have helped them hold teams to a 212.2 passing yards game, which ranks 29th in the FBS. However, it’s hard to imagine that Ohio’s third- and fourth-best cover guys can hang with ECU’s Nos. 3 and 4 receivers.

Edge: East Carolina

When Ohio has the ball

Rushing: At 5-foot-9, 206 pounds, running back Beau Blankenship (844, 5 touchdowns) is a sturdy back who has proven he can handle the load. Blankenship is aided by a mammoth offensive line that averages 6-5, 304 pounds from tackle to tackle.

Stopping the run has been the main focus of every ECU game and it shows in its 117.5 rushing yards allowed per game, which ranks 15th in the country.

With speedy and athletic linebackers, ECU should be able to corral Ohio’s run game. However, if the Bobcats decide to play power football, then it could be an interesting battle.

Edge: Even

Passing: Tucked behind that giant offensive line, expect Ohio to bootleg 6-foot quarterback Tyler Tettleton a lot to try to constantly move the pocket. The Pirates have been strong against athletic quarterbacks, but scrambling always is a concern.

Wide receiver Donte Foster (858, 6 touchdowns) is Tettleton’s primary target. He will clash against ECU’s defense, which has allowed 245.8 yards per game in a pass-happy conference.

The Pirates’ pass rush has been feast or famine at times this year, but if it can remain disciplined it should be effective, even against the Bobcats big line.

Edge: East Carolina

Special teams

Perhaps the best matchup of the day will be Ohio’s seventh-ranked kick return defense versus ECU’s sixth-ranked kick return offense led by Lance Ray (25.1 yards per return).

If the game comes down to a field goal, Ohio holds the edge as kicker Josiah Yazdani is one of only two kickers in the country that is yet to miss an attempt (12-12). ECU’s Warren Harvey (14-23) has been shaky at times.

Pirates’ punter Trent Tignor (42.7 yards per kick) has been strong all year. Ohio’s Grant Venham (37.8) has been dependable as well.

Edge: Ohio

Intangibles

In every big game the coach-quarterback combination is paramount. Ohio’s ninth-year coach Frank Solich (66-49), the 2006 MAC Coach of the Year, has done a tremendous job. Solich has led his program to five consecutive bowls and back-to-back bowl wins for the first time.

ECU fourth-year coach Ruffin McNeill (28-22) has his team on the cusp of its second-highest win total in school history and has achieved bowl eligibility in three of his four seasons with the team. However, he has yet to win one with the Pirates.

Both teams rely heavily on their quarterbacks, but it’s hard to compare Tettleton’s season to that of Carden, the Conference USA Most Valuable Player.

Edge: East Carolina.

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