ANN ARBOR, Mich., (WNCT) — East Carolina University’s football season opener was certainly a learning experience on Saturday.

The Pirates took on the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines at The Big House, the biggest football stadium in the country with an announced crowd of 109,480. Michigan picked up a 30-3 victory.

The Pirates went three and out to open the game. A 67-yard punt from Archer Trafford put Michigan on its own goal line. The Wolverines’ first drive against ECU’s defensive line almost pushed them back into their own end zone, for a three-and-out.

East Carolina was able to get three on the board late in the fourth quarter, thanks to a 33-yard field goal from Andrew Conrad.

Even though the Pirates lost, there were some bright spots in the game.

ECU’s defense (run game)

(ECU Sports Information photo)

There was a situation Saturday against Michigan that brought back memories of last season’s opener.

The Pirates dropped their season and home opener versus rival N.C. State, 21-20, on Sept. 3, 2022. It was a heartbreaker for the Pirates and their fans. But there was a bright and memorable spot in that game.

The Wolfpack were able to get on the goal line and it seemed pretty evident that they were going to tack six on to their score. The Pirate defense was not only able to keep them out of the end zone, but they were able to push them back a few yards.

Something very similar happened Saturday, keeping the Wolverines out of the end zone.

Alex Flinn

East Carolina quarterback Alex Flinn (15) throws against Michigan in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

After fifth-year quarterback Holton Ahlers graduated last year, it was up in the air who would be in a position to fill his shoes. There were two options, Mason Garcia or Alex Flinn. True freshman Raheim Jeter was also an option, but ultimately it was between Garcia and Flinn.

Garcia started the game for the Pirates. On East Carolina’s second drive, Garcia threw an interception right as the Pirates were at midfield, which led to a questionable Wolverine touchdown.

A lot of controversy was spoken regarding the touchdown, claiming that Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy was yards past the line of scrimmage when he threw the scoring pass. If a penalty had been called, it would have taken the touchdown away and would have resulted in a loss of five yards and a down.

After reviewing the play, the referees determined the touchdown stood. Below is a photo from when McCarthy threw the scoring pass. It shows him past the line of scrimmage.

(Television screengrab)

We’ll let you make the call.

After Garcia’s interception, Flinn was put in at quarterback for just the second time in his college career. He was actually able to piece together a pretty decent drive in The Big House, eight plays for 32 yards.

It might not sound great, but for his second time ever in a college game, this time in front of over 109,000 people, it’s not bad.

A lot of Pirate fans took to Twitter to say Flinn was their new favorite and were hopeful to see him in the starting spot when the Pirates face Marshall this Saturday in their home opener.

313 in a row without getting shut out

Despite the loss, the late field goal allowed ECU to extend its streak of games without a shutout to 313 straight. The last time they were held to zero was against Syracuse in 1997.

ECU’s defense (pass coverage)

The East Carolina defense struggled with its coverage on pass plays last season, and it seemed to be a struggle on Saturday. Something to keep in mind is they were playing the No. 2 team in the country and a national championship contender. However, there were times, especially late in the game, that it seemed too easy for Michigan to move downfield.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy held an 87% completion percentage and threw for 280 yards with three touchdowns in the win. With the success they have in stopping the run game, pass coverage is something the Pirates will have to improve on.

Mason Garcia

East Carolina quarterback Mason Garcia throws against Michigan in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Garcia was a QB1 favorite going into the season opener. While he didn’t have a horrible outing, it didn’t live up to ECU fans’ expectations for their new quarterback.

A lot of Pirate fans have already given up on Garcia as their starting quarterback. While some are hopeful, others have already decided Flinn should take that position.

What’s next for the Pirates?

East Carolina will welcome Marshall into Dowdy-Ficklen for their home opener. The Herd will be coming off a 21-17 win over Albany, giving them their 600th win in program history.

Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. on Saturday.