GREENVILLE, N.C. – South Florida and East Carolina look to even their records Saturday afternoon when they meet up in Greenville, N.C. It's the third American Athletic Conference road game in four weeks for the Bulls, who fell at Navy 35-3 last week, while the Pirates come in off a 41-28 loss to Central Florida in which they outscored the Knights 22-6 in the second half.
TV: 3:45 p.m. ET, ESPNU. LINE: USF -2
"We ran out of time," East Carolina first-year head coach Mike Houston told reporters afterward. "We just couldn't convert enough there in the second half. We had our shots. ... If nothing else, I think our team has shown this ain't the old ECU." The Pirates battled back in the second half behind the passing of sophomore quarterback Holton Ahlers, who finished with his first 300-yard effort of the season (313 yards) and a defense that slammed the door on the Knights, including two clutch fourth-down stops, after a horrific first two quarters. The Pirates hope to carry that momentum into their meeting with a Bulls team that owns this rivalry as USF has won four straight and eight of nine meetings overall. The question for the Bulls, however, will be the status of starting quarterback Jordan McCloud, who has been hampered by shoulder and wrist injuries, one reason the offense couldn't get anything going against Navy, and leading head coach Charlie Strong to say, "Once we can get him healthy, then he's gonna be able to execute and do the things that we need him to do."
ABOUT SOUTH FLORIDA (3-4, 1-2 American)
McCloud has started the last five games in place of injured senior Blake Barnett, throwing for 674 yards and eight touchdowns, but walk-on Kirk Rygol may be needed and he has seen action against UConn and Navy. Senior running back Jordan Cronkrite has been coming on strong with 382 yards total the last three games, with 148 yards at UConn and 158 against BYU. The defense was torn apart by Navy, giving up a whopping 434 yards on the ground - no other opponent produced more than 245 yards rushing against USF - but the ball-hawking unit still came away with three takeaways, giving USF 18 for the season (10 fumbles, eight INTs), tied for second in the nation.
ABOUT EAST CAROLINA (3-4, 0-3)
It was a tale of two halves against UCF as the Pirates rallied from a discouraging first half in which they let the Knights score on their first five possessions and roll up 418 yards of total offense. "The second half should give our guys confidence that they can compete," Houston said. "We've got to play aggressive. If we play passive, if we play on our heels, we're going to struggle against anybody. We've got to go out and we've got to play together and do the things we do on the practice field. That's going to be the real key to the stretch run." Ahlers has passed for at least 200 yards in each of the last four games, connecting on six of his seven touchdown passes in those contests.
1. USF has averaged 34.1 points in nine contests against ECU, failing to hit 20 just once, which was the Bulls' lone loss to the Pirates in 2014 (28-17).
2. The Pirates have allowed just one second-half touchdown in the last four home games.
3. The Bulls have a takeaway in every game and 10 players have at least one.
PREDICTION: USF 26, ECU 23