Pirates look to continue success, pull off upset against No. 4 Cincinnati

ECU Pirates

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GREENVILLE, N.C. – East Carolina will try to extend its American Athletic Conference winning streak to five in a row – the Pirates’ longest run of single-season success in membership history (2014-21) – and produce the program’s first-ever 4-0 AAC home record when it hosts No. 4 Cincinnati for a 3:30 p.m. matchup Friday.

ECU will also attempt to secure its eighth triumph, its highest overall victory total since 2014. Lastly, the tilt against the Bearcats will mark the Pirates’ first against an opponent ranked in the AP’s Top 4 since facing West Virginia at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in 2006.

EAST CAROLINA RECORDS AND STREAKS

  • Has allowed only two 4th-quarter TDs in the last five games (+35/55-20) …
  • Has allowed only 27 points (3 TD) in the second half of the last five games (5.4 ppg) …
  • Has allowed only 15.3 points per game in its three AAC home contests …
  • Has forced at least one turnover in 17 of the last 19 games (and in 28 of the last 31) …
  • Has +10.4 ppg, +35.9 rypg, +109.6 pypg and +145.5 typg cumulative margins in all seven AAC games …
  • Has a collective time of possession edge in all seven AAC games (+9:17 avg.) …
  • Has snapped more offensive plays in all seven AAC games (+99 the last four contests) …
  • Has averaged 269.0 rushing yards in its three AAC home games (310/TLN, 251/USF, 246/TEM) …

THE SERIES
East Carolina leads 13-11 … The Bearcats have won nine of the last 10, including the first six of seven meetings as American Conference members … On the flipside, the Pirates have won eight of 12 contests in Greenville.

MIKE HOUSTON AGAINST THE BEARCATS
ECU’s losses vs. Cincinnati in 2019 & 2020 serves as Mike Houston’s only prior meetings against the Bearcats.

LUKE FICKELL AGAINST THE PIRATES
Fifth meeting (3-1; ECU win in 2017, Cincinnati victories in 2018, 2019 & 2020) … The Pirates never competed against Akron (2000-01) and Ohio State (2002-16) while Luke Fickell was a member of those respective staffs.

COMPARING 10-YEAR, 11-GAME RESULTS
East Carolina’s 38-35 win at Navy improved the Pirates’ record to 7-4, the program’s first winning mark through 11 games since 2014 (8-3) and guaranteed an overall (full season) winning ledger since that same campaign (8-5) … A triumph over Cincinnati would give ECU an 8-4 slate, matching its second-best record in the last 10 years (9-3/2013, 8-4/2012, 8-4/2014 … On the flipside, a loss against the Bearcats would be the first time since 2007 that East Carolina would be 7-5 after 12 contests.

AT DOWDY-FICKLEN STADIUM
East Carolina’s all-time record at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium is 196-110 (.641) … The Pirates opened the facility on Sept. 21, 1963 with a 20-10 win over Wake Forest in front of 17,000 fans, celebrated the stadium’s 50th anniversary in 2013 and recently hosted its 300th game vs. Tulane in 2020 … Before a 4-1 clip this year, a 1-3 record last year and a collective 13-19 mark from 2015-2019, ECU was 5-1 in 2014, 2013 and 2012 (15-3) and won a combined 10 of 12 home matchups in 2009 (6-1) and 2008 (4-1) … Overall, ECU has posted 40 winning campaigns at DFS since 1963.

THE PIRATE NATION – OVER 9 MILLION STRONG
East Carolina has usually been able to claim plenty of hometown support when playing at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium – establishing itself among conference attendance leaders on a near annual basis … In all, a total of 9,083,810 fans have seen the Pirates in action since 1963, and since the completion of a 7,000-seat expansion project in 2010 (to push capacity to 50,000), the Pirates have drawn 2,812,521 fans.

SHUTOUT-FREE … 298 AND COUNTING
East Carolina will enter the Cincinnati contest with an active streak of 298 games of not suffering a shutout – a school record (previous mark was 110 set from ’71-’81) … The last time the Pirates were blanked was on Oct. 4, 1997 (56-0 at Syracuse) … ECU’s 298-game run currently ranks among the Top 10 nationally (Florida is first with 422).

CHARTING THE PIRATES MONTH-BY-MONTH
In all, East Carolina is 3-3-0 in August, 131-122-1 in September, 165-166-4 in October, 145-132-5 in November, 9-10-0 in December and 1-4-0 in January … The Pirates close out November play against Cincinnati, a month in which East Carolina has now won three-straight … At home, ECU has split its last eight (Cincinnati/2017, UConn/2018, SMU/2020, Temple/2021), but has also dropped nine of the last 13 dating back to 2015 … Overall, the Pirates are 11-19 vs. the AAC in Month 11.

A STARTERS’ LOG
QB Holton Ahlers (16 games) and CB Malik Fleming (9) own the program’s longest starting streaks on offense and defense entering the Navy matchup … East Carolina has used 20 different starters on defense in 2021 (17 on offense).

2021 PIRATE GRADUATES (11)
OL Sean Bailey, ILB Bruce Bivens, WR Cam Burnette, TE Zech Byrd, RB/WR Maceo Donald, OL Bailey Malovic, WR Audie Omotosho, ILB Aaron Ramseur, SAF Warren Saba, WR Tyler Snead, P Jonn Young.

RUSHING TO PROGRESS
East Carolina’s 1,895-yard rushing total in 2021 marks the program’s third-highest 11-game clip since 2000 … In addition, the Pirates have posted 10 200-yard rushing contests in the Mike Houston era (2/2019, 5/2020, 3/2021).

TRIPLE-DIGIT MAGIC
Keaton Mitchell (124/CIN, 103/TEM in 2020 and 135/MAR, 125/CSU, 222/TLN, 146/TEM in 2021) became the first Pirates’ RB in eight years to post six career 100-yard rushing contests when he eclipsed triple digits vs. Temple on Nov. 6 … Rahjai Harris tallied his fourth (22-100) vs. USF a week earlier, marking the first time since 2003 that East Carolina features teammates with at least four each (Marvin Townes/5, Art Brown/4) … Individually, Dominique Lindsay posted five in 2009 for the most recent single-season best.

1K FOR KEATON
Keaton Mitchell surpassed the single-season 1,000-yard mark with a 23-yard rush on the initial snap of the game against Navy, becoming the first East Carolina running back since 2013 to reach four digits in a campaign … In all, 17 Pirates have eclipsed the 1K ground yard mark in ECU history beginning with Dave Alexander (1,029) in 1965.

LOOKING FOR MORE LOOT
Despite its impressive 45-3 win, East Carolina’s 16-game streak of forcing at least one turnover came to a halt against Temple three weeks ago … The run, which began on Oct. 3, 2020 at Georgia State and produced 36 takeaways (22 interceptions, 14 fumble recoveries), was the program’s longest since a 33-game streak (from 2007 to 2010) … In all, ECU still has at least one takeaway in 17 of the last 19 (and 28 of 31) contests.

AMONG TOP PASSING UNITS IN AMERICAN HISTORY
Since joining the AAC in 2014, the Pirates stand second in passing yards over a combined seven plus year period despite utilizing nine starting quarterbacks, four offensive coordinators and three head coaches: 1. Memphis (29,603), 2. East Carolina (28,009), 3. UCF (25,810), 4. SMU (25,444), 5. Cincinnati (24,821), 6. Houston (24,810), 7. Tulsa (23,523), 8. Temple (22,133), 9. South Florida (20,038), 10. Tulane (17,803) and 11. Navy (7,765) … However, the Pirates top the league in completions (2,360) and attempts (3,902) … ECU has also accounted for a conference high 19 400-yard passing games and surpassed the 300-yard mark on 49 occasions during the 90-game span … The top two receivers in NCAA FBS history by career receptions – Zay Jones (399 from 2013-16) and Justin Hardy (387 from 2011-2014) – are former ECU players.

SWISS ARMY KNIFE & RECEPTION STREAK
Slot receiver/return specialist Tyler Snead has averaged 118.0 all-purpose yards in his last 16 games (244 vs. Temple alone in ’20) … On offense, Snead has caught at least one pass in 32 consecutive games (dating back to 2019) – tops on the unit and currently the 8th-longest streak at the FBS level.

AMONG SELECT COMPANY (THROUGH 11)
Keaton Mitchell’s 1,077 rushing yards ranks as the second-highest (Leonard Henry/1,432 in 2001) ground total by an East Carolina running back through the first 11 games of a season.

LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE
Keaton Mitchell currently stands fourth at the FBS level in yards per carry average, netting 6.86 yards per attempt … He has a team-leading 12 carries that have surpassed 20 or more yards, five which have eclipsed 50 (88-TD/Marshall, 74-TD/Charleston Southern, 68-TD/Tulane, 62/Tulane, 57-TD/Temple) … His 222-yard rushing performance vs. Tulane on Oct. 2 were the most by a Pirate RB since first-round draft choice Chris Johnson racked up 223 against Boise State in the 2007 Hawai’i Bowl.

NO PASSING ZONE
Cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian continues to lead all of FBS in passes defended, interceptions and interceptions per game (0.45) … He’s already enjoyed a streak of picking off a pass in three-straight games (Marshall, Charleston Southern and Tulane), while also netting INTs vs. Appalachian State and Memphis … In addition, McMillian stands second among Pirate defenders in tackles with 52 and was selected as one of 12 semifinalists for the 2021 Paycom Jim Thorpe Award on Oct. 25.

A COMEBACK FOR THE AGES
East Carolina put together its biggest fourth-quarter comeback (-17, 38-21 with 7:30 left) in ECU history during Pirates’ 42-38 win at Marshall on Sept. 18 since rallying past NC State 37-34 (-17, 34-17 with 7:26 left) on Jan. 1, 1992 to capture the Peach Bowl at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

MISC… FROM THE TREASURE CHEST
ECU’s 45-3 win (+42) over Temple on Nov. 6 was the Pirates’ biggest AAC victory (by margin) in its membership (since 2014), surpassing a 41-3 (+38) triumph over UConn on 10/29/16 … ECU racked up 310 rushing yards vs. Tulane (the most since running for 491 at Memphis on Nov. 3, 2007) before following up with 251 (USF) and 246 (TEM) – an average of 269.0 per AAC home game in ’21 … CB Malik Fleming’s 31-yard interception return for a TD vs. USF was ECU’s second of the season (CB Ja’Quan McMillian vs. CSU), the most Pirate “pick-sixes” in a season since 2015 … TE Shane Calhoun (114/MAR) and TE Ryan Jones (102/TEM) marks fi rst time since 1990 that the Pirates have had at least two 100-yd receiving games by a TE in one season (Luke Fisher had both in ’90 – 112/ FSU, 109/UGA) … Jones’ 4 TDs are the most by an Pirate TE since 2015 (Bryce Williams/4).

NON-SATURDAY MAYHEM
East Carolina is 21-28 in non-Saturday games since 2000 … Oddly, the Pirates have fared better on the road (14-14; 7-14 at home) … In terms of days (including bowls), ECU is 5-1 on Sundays, 1-1 on Mondays, 2-1 on Tuesdays, 0-3 on Wednesdays, 8-12 on Thursdays and 5-10 on Fridays … Most recently, ECU is 10-13 when deviating from the normal Saturday routine since 2010 … The Pirates’ most recent Friday outings came last year – 34-30 and 55-17 setbacks at Tulsa (Oct. 30) and Cincinnati (Nov. 13), respectively.

VERSUS ASSOCIATED PRESS (AP) RANKED OPPONENTS
East Carolina is 13-62-1 all-time against opponents ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll (at the time the game was played).

STANDING ALONE – FACING RANKED HOME OPPONENTS
East Carolina is the only Group of 5 program nationally which has hosted ranked AP opponents in each of the last five years – 2017 (No. 16 Virginia Tech/No. 18 South Florida), 2018 (No. 10 UCF), 2019 (No. 17 Cincinnati), 2020 (No. 13 UCF) and 2021 (No. 4 Cincinnati) … Troy stands second by welcoming four – 2018 (No. 18/Boise State), 2019 (No. 22/Appalachian State), 2020 (No. 11/Coastal Carolina) and 2021 (No. 24/Louisiana).

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From The Associated Press

No. 4 Cincinnati (11-0, 7-0 American Athletic Conference, No. 4 CFP) at East Carolina (7-4, 5-2), Friday at 3:30 p.m. EST (ABC).

Line: Cincinnati by 14 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series record: East Carolina 13-11.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

Cincinnati’s undefeated season and breakthrough run to the College Football Playoff. No non-Power Five program has ever been part of the sport’s final four to play for a national title. The Bearcats must continue to win — and win big — to make that dream a reality. East Carolina has qualified for its first bowl game in seven seasons and can enhance its destination by beating the Bearcats.

KEY MATCHUP

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder against East Carolina’s pass defense. Ridder is having a stellar season for the Bearcats with 2,899 yards and 32 touchdowns. The Pirates are middle of the pack in the AAC, giving up 226 yards per game and 15 touchdowns through the air this season. Ridder passed for four TDs in beating East Carolina 55-17 a year ago.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Cincinnati: RB Jerome Ford has powered the Bearcats ground game and is 29 yards away from 1,000 on the season. The one-time Alabama tailback has 16 touchdowns this season to lead the AAC.

East Carolina: RB Keaton Mitchell leads the AAC with 1,077 yards rushing and in all-purpose yards with 1,335 yards. It’s the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Pirates since Tay Cooper did it in consecutive seasons (2012, 2013). If the Pirates have a chance, it will come from Mitchell getting going on the ground.

FACTS & FIGURES

Cincinnati is looking to finish 12-0 in the regular season for the second time ever, joining the 2009 team. … A win would let the Bearcats host the AAC Championship game against No. 19 Houston on Dec. 4. … Walk-on kicker Owen Daffer hit a 54-yard field goal in the final seconds in East Carolina’s 38-35 win at Navy last week. Afterward, Pirates coach Mike Houston said he’d already decided to put Daffer on scholarship. … Cincinnati leads the nation in pass defense efficiency, is second in passing yards allowed (155.5) per game and third in interceptions (16). … East Carolina hasn’t hosted a top-four opponent since losing to No. 4 West Virginia 27-10 in 2006. … The Pirates are 0-10 all-time against top-five teams. They’ve lost 10 straight since their last win over a ranked team, a 70-41 victory over No. 25 North Carolina in 2014.

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