On a beautiful Sunday last fall, UConn nearly completed one of the best comebacks in recent program history. Down 27-14 at halftime, the Huskies rallied back, outscoring East Carolina 24-14 in the second half with a chance to tie things up with a 33-yard field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, Michael Tarbutt’s kick was wide right, and UConn suffered a 41-38 loss. College kickers can be like that sometimes.
While this loss really didn’t change the course of the Huskies’ season, it did show that they were capable of doing things offensively. Former quarterback Bryant Shirreffs threw for over 400 yards, Kevin Mensah ran for over 100 and Arkeel Newsome and Mason Donaldson each had over 100 yards receiving.
Yes, it was a tough loss to swallow, but the offense looked good. Yes, it was against the nation’s worst defense according to S&P+. But still, UConn scored 38 points, and that’s something that couldn’t be said much in the past few years.
This year, UConn heads down south to Greenville, North Carolina on Nov. 17 looking to avenge their close loss at the Rent and pick up a rare road win.
2017 Season in Review
The easiest way to explain ECU’s season is that they were statistically worse than UConn. The Pirates ranked 123rd in S&P+ — four spots behind UConn — on their way to a 3-9 record. Aside from beating the Huskies, ECU’s other wins came against BYU and Cincinnati. The Pirates gave up 50 or more points in six of their 12 games last season. Very hard to win games like that.
Two quarterbacks saw significant time for ECU last season, and both of them are gone. Gardner Minshew threw for 16 touchdowns, seven interceptions and 2,140 yards and transferred to Washington State while Thomas Sirk threw for just over 1,600 yards with nine touchdowns and nine picks and gradauated. Wide receiver Davon Grayson is also gone after a 59-catch, 886-yard season with six touchdown catches.
Defensively, a lot of players are gone, but considering how bad the defense was last year, that could be a blessing in disguise.
The quarterback position is up in air, with head coach Scottie Montgomery having to choose between sophomore Reid Herring, redshirt freshman Kinglsey Ifedi and true freshman Holton Ahlers, a three-star recruit.
At running back, leading rushers Hussein Howe (419 rushing yards) and Darius Pinnix (229 yards) return and add Anthony Scott, the No. 2 running back in the class of 2016, who sat out 2017 due to academic issues.
For receivers, Trevon Brown will be the No. 1 option after a 1,069 yard season last year, including seven touchdown passes. Slot receiver Deondre Farrier (three touchdowns) should be a factor as well.
Being last in defensive S&P+ last year means that the defense literally cannot get worse, which is good for the Pirates. Seriously, look at how sad their 2017 defensive radar is in Bill Connelly’s 2018 preview of ECU.
Fortunately for East Carolina, the Pirates have a new defensive coordinator in David Blackwell. Blackwell played for ECU under Bill Lewis in the early 1990s and had success at Jacksonville State, where the Gamecocks never allowed more than 20 points per game in his last three seasons.
The Pirates threw a lot of bodies out on defense last year, and out of 28 players that made at least five tackles last season, 17 of them return. While the secondary was rattled by the injuries, Tim Irvin, a former Auburn transfer, could be an impact piece. Fellow safety Devon Sutton (5.5 tackles for loss, one sack) is probably the best returning player and linebacker Aaron Ramseur (team-high two interceptions) will be a factor as well.
Matchup Against UConn
UConn has won one road game in the last two seasons, so it’s fair to say that road wins are hard to come by. That being said, this is a game ripe for the taking, especially if Blackwell can’t make his new defense work with the players he has on staff. This is as winnable of a road game as there will ever be.
Prediction: UConn 28, East Carolina 24