When Ruffin McNeill began coaching football 29 years ago, his father introduced him to a barometer by which to gauge his seasons.
“My dad always told me: if you coach when you have to wear jackets and its cold and snowy then you had a good year,” McNeill said.
The No. 18 Pirates (5-1, 2-0) on Thursday can ensure that they will be playing in winter weather when they attempt to clinch bowl eligibility at home against UConn (1-5, 0-3 AAC) at 7 p.m.
“To become bowl eligible is a thing that you shoot for,” McNeill said. “… To become bowl eligible, I think it’s great for our players and our staff and our staff’s family.”
If East Carolina can get past a struggling UConn team, it will clinch its fourth bowl berth in the past five seasons.
The Pirates narrowly avoided an upset their last time out, as they overcame a 17-7 halftime deficit against South Florida to secure a 28-17 victory.
East Carolina committed 12 penalties for a season-high 148 yards against the Bulls and now rank 114th in the nation in flags per game, something McNeill addressed during the team’s bye week.
“Yeah, we talked about it,” McNeill said. “… Yes, we have emphasized that. We have to adjust to how they’re called. We haven’t changed our coaching technique or anything like that, we’ve been coaching the same way since we’ve been here.”
Thursday’s meeting with the Huskies will mark the first in ECU’s history. Connecticut has lost four straight games, with its last being a 12-3 defeat at the hands of Tulane.
Third down’s the charm: The Pirates are averaging 41 points per game, 11th in the nation, and the key has been their success on third downs. Led by the record-breaking duo of quarterback Shane Carden and receiver Justin Hardy, ECU has converted 48 percent of its third downs, which is 12th-best in the nation.
“You have to be able to move the chains,” McNeill said. “How you move them? Don’t care. You just have to move them. Either run or pass you just have to be able to move the chains.”
How well the Pirates continue to move the chains figures to play a key role Thursday when they face a Huskies team that leads the American Athletic Conference in third down defense (31 percent).
Injury report: East Carolina receiver Jimmy Williams, who has missed the past two games due to an ankle injury, is expected play Thursday. Defensive end Damage Bailey (knee) and DB Cody Purdie (wrist) will be sidelined with injuries, while ILB Devaris Brunson (knee) is out indefinitely.