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Simulating East Carolina at Cincinnati

Last year’s matchup was unpredictable. Let’s predict what happens this time.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

In recent years, Cincinnati has brought the hammer down on the East Carolina Pirates, winning each of the last five meetings, including last year’s 19-16 escape act in Greenville, North Carolina. However, before those five meetings, ECU handled UC like nobody’s business, winning 12 of the first 14 meetings.

On Saturday, the two squads will meet up once again and with both still winless in league play, there will be desperation in the air. That much we know. What we can’t possibly know is the outcome of the game, just like we couldn’t have predicted that the top offense in the American Athletic Conference (UC) would need a last-second field goal to pull out a 19-16 win in the regular season finale against the Pirates in 2015.

To get some insights into what may occur in 2016, we will turn to the power of simulation.

Before we get started, here is the disclaimer. The simulation site used (WhatIfSports.com) has not updated to include 2016 football rosters. However, with some slight tweaks, we can at least form a facsimile of the makeup of the Bearcats and the Pirates. We can also adjust the weather, which calls for temperatures in the 50s and light winds on Saturday night in Cincinnati according to Weather.com. Here are the results of five simulations.

Simulation 1: East Carolina 37 Cincinnati 13

IT’S TIME TO SLAM THE PANIC BUTTON! Anthony Scott rushes for 77 yards and a touchdown and tight end Stephen Baggett hauls in a 76-yard touchdown reception as the Pirates roll over the Bearcats on the road. Philip Nelson completes 13-of-16 pass attempts for 187 yards and a touchdown and Zay Jones goes to town, catching nine passes for 71 yards.

Hayden Moore effectively loses the starting job by completing a grand total of 11 passes while being intercepted three times. Tion Green (104 yards) and Mike Boone (68 yards) find some success on the ground, but the Bearcats go 4-for-16 on third down and finish with 338 yards of total offense.

Simulation 2: East Carolina 36 Cincinnati 14

This is not the comforting exercise I had hoped it would be so far. ECU takes a 16-0 lead into halftime but the Bearcats finally get their act together and cut into the deficit with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Moore to Nate Cole and a one-yard touchdown run from Tion Green with seven minutes to play. In those final minutes, however, the Pirates run away with the game, literally, with rushing touchdowns from Scott and James Summer.

Moore once again struggles, completing only 13-of-31 pass attempts for 163 yards, opening the door for Gunner Kiel. Unfortunately, Kiel falls flat as well, connecting on only 4-of-12 pass attempts for 47 yards. UC is better on third down (8-of-18) but manages only 27 yards on the ground.

Simulation 3: Cincinnati 24 East Carolina 19

Huzzah! A win! This is the Mike Boone and Tion Green show. Boone rumbles for 117 yards and a touchdown (of 60 yards) on the ground and adds in 34 receiving yards. Green manages 66 yards and two total touchdowns, including a two-yard scoring reception in the third quarter that puts the Bearcats ahead for good. Nate Cole turns his three receptions into a team-high 50 yards while Marquise Copeland and Cortez Broughton record sacks. Despite it all, Moore is abysmal once more, completing 11-of-35 attempts for only 148 yards, a touchdown and another three interceptions.

Simulation 4: East Carolina 20 Cincinnati 10

Green and Boone combine for 120 yards on the ground but it isn’t nearly enough as Jones and Trevon Brown each bring in touchdown receptions and, despite a 19-yard touchdown grab from Cole early in the fourth quarter, the Pirates close things out with a field goal in the last three minutes.

Moore completes more passes (20-of-39) but is again uneven, finishing with two interceptions compared to the lone touchdown pass. The Bearcats actually have the edge in terms of total offense (373 to 302) but three turnovers and seven penalties keep them from finding a way to win.

Simulation 5: Cincinnati 30 East Carolina 24

It appears as if UC was set for another setback until the last quarter. Trailing 24-13 entering the final frame, the Bearcats score 17 unanswered points, highlighted by a three-yard touchdown pass from Moore to Tshumbi Johnson and capped by a 21-yard field goal in the last minute.

UC once again out gains ECU (470 to 361) and Moore plays his best game of the bunch, completing 21-of-38 pass attempts for 283 yards and the critical touchdown. Cole leads the team in receptions and receiving yards and Boone racks up 87 yards and a score on the ground.

If we take these simulations as gospel, then Saturday is going to be extremely tough, especially for Moore. ECU is currently the top offense in the AAC based on yards per game, so it is possible the Pirates could break open a few big plays and run away with this, or that UC’s improved defense could put the locks on and give it an opportunity to squeeze one out. We’ll find out Saturday which result comes to fruition, if any.