After playing three consecutive Power Five opponents, East Carolina will go from one extreme to the other Saturday when it hosts a winless Southern Methodist team that has had more head coaches than touchdowns this season.
The No. 22 Pirates (3-1) picked up consecutive wins against then-No. 17 Virginia Tech and rival North Carolina before heading into a bye week.
ECU will return to action against the struggling Mustangs (0-4) in a game in which the drop in buzz will be partially negated by the fact that it’s the Pirates’ first American Athletic Conference contest.
“It’s a historical moment for us, East Carolina University, our program. I know our fans will come out and support that,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. “It’s been a move that has been in the making for a lot of years, before (the current coaching staff) came here.”
McNeill likes to break his season up into quarters, and said the upcoming quadrant is crucial.
“We know this is what it’s about here, this quarter here is all we look at,” McNeill said. “The rest of our entire season is American Conference play. The first quarter was good, but the second quarter will be more vital.”
It’s been a debacle of a season for SMU, highlighted by the surprise resignation of coach June Jones for personal reasons after a 43-6 loss to North Texas in Week 2.
It was a move that shocked McNeill, a longtime acquaintance.
“I know coach Jones left, I’m not sure for what reason. I’d like to find out, but I haven’t had a chance to talk to June,” McNeill said. “June has always been special to me from (his) Hawaii days and me at Fresno State days. I think a lot of June Jones.”
Defensive coordinator Tom Mason was named the SMU interim coach, but the results have not changed much. Facing No. 7 Baylor, No. 6 Texas A&M and Texas Christian, the Mustangs have scored one touchdown and kicked two field goals.
SMU has been outscored 202-12 for an average loss of 50.3-3. The Mustangs have rushed for 177 yards and given up 1,039.
SMU’s lone touchdown came when Kolney Cassel hit Nate Halverson for a 33-yard pass on the final play against North Texas.
Time to look in the mirror: Though ECU had an extra week to prepare for SMU, the Pirates spent a good portion of that time focusing on themselves.
“With our schedule, you find out quick what your strengths and weaknesses may be,” McNeill said. “So we approached last week as a chance to correct some things on all three sides of the ball, get some guys that were nicked up a little bit closer to healthy, and then we got a lot of young guys some needed reps.”
One of the more pressing concerns for the Pirates, who rank 108th in penalties per game (8.5), was cutting back on the flags.
“I felt like we needed to get better overall on making sure we cut down our penalties as a team,” McNeill said. “We want to be a better team in the second quarter (of the season) at eliminating penalties.”
Injury report : Inside linebacker Davarus Brunson will remain sidelined with a knee injury, and receiver Jimmy Williams, who hurt his ankle during the UNC game, is listed as probable.