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UConn Football Opponent Preview: East Carolina

The ECU Pirates are one of the better football programs in the AAC, posting a strong season in their inaugural year as members of the conference. How are things shaping up this offseason for UConn's late-October matchup?

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, on the road against a ranked ECU team, UConn put together perhaps their finest offensive performance of the season, and managed to keep it close. UConn will certainly be hosting a talented team this year on October 30 at Pratt and Whitney Stadium, but there is a possibility it is a more beatable one than last year.

The 2014 ECU team was heavy with seniors, including quarterback Shane Carden, who would go on to earn AAC offensive player of the year, and wide receiver Justin Hardy, who broke the FBS career receptions record. The Pirates lost a lot of seniors on defense as well.

Even though ECU is a contender to win the AAC East, you could talk yourself into UConn having a chance to win this one. Last year, the Huskies went on the road and had an opportunity to take the lead late in the 4th quarter. It wasn't until a Breon Allen rushing touchdown with less than two minutes left that the game's outcome had been determined.

This year, the Huskies will have home-field advantage, should be an improved football team and might be facing a weaker opponent. Anything can happen!

Head coach Ruffin McNeill named redshirt sophomore Kurt Benkhert the starting quarterback a little over a week ago, but unfortunately Benkhert suffered a season-ending ACL injury shortly afterward. Junior college transfer Blake Kemp will be competing with junior Cody Keith for the starting job.

Offensively, ECU likes to spread the ball around using a pass-heavy attack. Even though they are losing a significant amount of offensive production, there are multiple talented options who saw the field and made plays last year. The Pirates have a talented running back stable, which will be led by senior Chris Hairston, who averaged 6.7 yards per carry as a junior. The experienced offensive line is replacing one starter while returning left tackle Ike Harris and interior lineman J.T. Boyd, who were both 2nd team All-AAC selections in 2014.

If the Pirates' quarterback, whoever that may be, can efficiently run the offense, this could be a dangerous unit. But that is now a huge question mark since they are looking at their second option under center and still unsure if there are playmakers at wide receiver.

Last year, UConn's defense had their hands full against the Pirates offense, allowing 135 rushing yards and 445 passing yards across a remarkable 100 plays. The passing offense may be packing a lighter punch this year, which should give the Huskies hope for holding it back.

ECU's 3-4 defense was stout against the run, but very weak against the pass. As evidence, you may recall a two-touchdown, 303-yard aerial display from Chandler Whitmer in last year's contest. The same should be true this year except now UConn should have better and more experienced offensive playmakers. They might have some trouble getting the running game going, so the Huskies will have to have a successful day in the air to make the upset.

The preseason media poll picked ECU to finish fourth in the AAC-East, behind Cincinnati, UCF and Temple, so it should be a tight race. Bill Connelly has them ranked 66th in the country. This all means the Pirates are expected to take care of business, but the Huskies might be able to pull off a surprise win at home.

Depending on how the start of the season shakes out, ECU could be a double-digit favorite against UConn. As long as the Huskies stay competitive it will be a good outing, but a win is certainly within their grasp. Excelling in the passing game, both offensively and defensively, will be the key to success.