The East Carolina Pirates and the Cincinnati Bearcats share a seemingly short history. The Pirates were new members to the AAC just two years ago, setting up Cincinnati and East Carolina for their first showdown since 2004 when current Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio was the Bearcats' lovely leader. Despite having not played in a decade, these two squads played each other as hard as crosstown high school rivals.
Both games over the past two seasons have come down to the final play and both games resulted in an Andrew Gantz game-winning field goal. When the Pirates stroll into Nippert Stadium on Saturday, October 15th, fans on both sides better be prepared for a hard-fought game capable of going either way. One question remains for either team: Will Gantz be the beloved savior once again or will the Pirates put them away for good this time?
Sure, having highly regarded kicking in Gantz is always lovely when time is expiring and he kicks it on through the uprights, but when you look at the two games these teams have played against one another, the kicking has little to do with it.
Gunner Kiel has thrown for 706 yards and five touchdowns at a 65% completion percentage when he plays the Pirates. I am not an expert or anything, but maybe it is time to either play cover four or put pressure on the quarterback because that is humiliating. Kiel has owned the Pirates and marched right down the field to give his team the easy victory in crunch time both instances he was put in the position to do so.
East Carolina, meanwhile, has traditionally been somewhat pass-heavy, which shows in their matchup this past season. The Pirates had no running game against the Bearcats last year, tallying a mere 68 total yards on the ground for an average of 3.8 yards per carry. If the Pirates want to win and not just keep it close, they will have to find a balance on offense to keep the Bearcats honest.
As far as East Carolina goes, let me copy and paste the stats Kiel has against this excuse for a secondary and try to justify why they do so awful against him. Simply put, the Pirates have no option but to sell out to stop Kiel because he absolutely shreds them apart. If Mike Boone breaks 300 yards and has six touchdowns then so be it, but you can't let this guy beat you a third year in a row.
For Cincinnati, a strengthened secondary should help the Bearcats this season and will likely be the leading piece in what won't be as close of a game as the previous two have been. Thus far, the Pirates have yet to show much of anything that will keep them competitive, let alone win. The Bearcats will likely rely on man coverage and rush the quarterback early and often because it worked last year. More than likely, that same plan will work this year too.
Though these two teams will be competitive, I just don't see the Pirates pulling this one out simply because of the raw dominance Kiel has against any defensive scheme thrown at him. Kiel will throw for at least 300 yards, and the Bearcats squeak out a close but solid victory. Six months out, I see the Bearcats winning 37-31.