Sports

What ECU will face in Houston’s Ed Oliver, the nation’s top lineman

Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, right, will take on East Carolina on Saturday in Greenville.
Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, right, will take on East Carolina on Saturday in Greenville. AP

East Carolina’s Nate Harvey is leading the nation in tackles for loss and sacks, but he could be overshadowed Saturday by Houston junior defensive tackle Ed Oliver.

Oliver, who’s 6-2 and 292 pounds, is the nation’s top lineman. He won the 2017 Outland Trophy, an award given to the best inside lineman, and is projected as high as the top pick in the 2019 NFL draft. At Houston he’s been a first-team All-American and AAC’s Defensive Player of the Year.

“You don’t get to see one of these guys but once every 10 years,” ECU coach Scottie Montgomery said.

Montgomery, whose Pirates (4-1, 1-0 AAC West) play at home against Houston (2-3, 0-2 AAC East) on Saturday, said he hasn’t coached against a defensive lineman like Oliver at the college level since facing Aaron Donald (6-1, 280 pounds), who is now the NFL’s dominant defensive lineman with the Los Angeles Rams. Donald was a Pitt senior and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 when Montgomery was a Duke assistant coach.

“(Oliver) has a very unique skill set of size, strength, speed and he can bend,” he said, highlighting flexibility to beat blocking plans. “He’s a different player.”

In his first two years at Houston, Oliver recorded 39.5 tackles for a loss and 139 total tackles. His two-year total of 39.5 tackles for a loss topped the previous two-year best by a sophomore (19.5), which had been set by Donald had recorded in 2010 and 2011.

Oliver ranks third among the Cougars with 40 tackles (17 solo, 23 assisted). His 8.0 tackles per game ranks the most in the nation among defensive linemen. Oliver’s 6.5 tackles for a loss is behind pace, but his 1.52 career average per game remains the highest among active players.

But statistics don’t fully measure his affect on a game.

“The ultimate respect you can give a defensive player,” Montgomery said, “is the ridiculous amount of time the offensive coordinator and the position coaches have to spend to not only stop him but the adjustments you have to be able to make when they move him around.”

ECU’s quarterback situation

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East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers (12) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against North Carolina on Saturday, September 8, 2018 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Montgomery, seeking offensive consistency, announced redshirt sophomore quarterback Reid Herring will share repetitions with the backups, true freshman Holton Ahlers and redshirt sophomore Kingsley Ifedi. The three QBs are listed as “or” on this week’s depth chart.

Herring has completed 118-of-218 passes out of a team total of 122-of-235, with Ahlers primarily playing on running downs. Ifedi has seen the fewest snaps.

“It will be open competition,” Montgomery said. “It’s not about us not naming a starter; we need to see who can play the best in the game plan that we created for all of them and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Houston at East Carolina

When: 7 p.m., Saturday

Where: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville

TV: CBSSN

Radio: WNCT-107.9

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