The Bearcats are headed for Greenville, North Carolina this Saturday night.
Cincinnati faces off with a rebuilding East Carolina club which has struggled to a 3-5 mark, including an 0-4 record in the AAC.
The Pirates have dropped three straight games: contests against conference foes Temple, Central Florida, and South Florida.
East Carolina’s struggles have been most evident on offense. The team is last in the AAC in scoring offense and offensive yards per game.
The Pirates have settled on sophomore Holton Ahlers at quarterback, who has struggled against elite competition but has shown a propensity for making big plays. Ahlers is a big, strong young man. He leads the Pirates in rushing and averages more than 200 yards passing per page.
This Tebowesque dual threat quarterback has been ECU’s best bet at opening things up all season. South Florida held Ahlers in check last week, holding him to -3 net yards rushing. If Cincinnati does the same this week, it will be a long afternoon for the Pirates.
Beyond Ahlers, ECU is in rough shape offensively. The club has gone with a less-than-effective running back by committee model this season. The Pirates offensive line is a perpetual work-in-progress.
At wide receiver, Ahlers has some steady targets. Freshman wide receiver C.J. Johnson has been gobbling up passes of late. He has a Calvin Johnson-build and has been snagging everything thrown his way. Sophomore slotman Tyler Snead has also proven a steady target for Ahlers.
On the defensive side of the ball, ECU is currently ranked tenth in yardage allowed in the AAC. Despite its struggles, the Pirates’ defense has some standout performers to watch out for on Saturday night. Sophomore linebacker Xavier Smith is a sideline-to-sideline presence for the Pirates. Senior defensive end Kendall Futrell is arguably the best pass rusher in the AAC, a classic speed rusher who has pestered every backfield in the conference. Senior defensive tackle Alex Turner has also been menace in the trenches this season.
Expect ECU to hang in this one for a while. Cincinnati will pull away but this young ECU club has too much talent to simply lay down for the Bearcats.