ORLANDO - This should be a really fun game to watch. Two teams with different motivations, yet needing a win to solidify a chance at the American Athletic Conference Championship. Before going in depth about players, however, here's a little background about East Carolina's history as a football program.
The Pirates struggled for much of the last decade, but it appears the Pirates would be close to becoming a winning program based on their three-game winning streak. Now that the Pirates are riding high, UCF needs to find a way to shift the momentum. Here’s a look back at the Pirates during the past twenty-five years.
East Carolina Football History
Much like UCF, East Carolina does not automatically come up when talking about football within its own state. There are four Atlantic Coast Conference schools within North Carolina, so the Pirates needed to earn respect. It’s not been easy.
Only 14 of the last 30 seasons produced winning records. It looked to be more of the same this season as the Pirates started off 0-2, but now they ride into Orlando amidst a three-game winning streak. There’s a long way to go this season. There’s also been many East Carolina teams that struggled prior to 2021.
It’s been a long road to gaining that respect, but it appears the East Carolina program just began to hit its stride under Head Coach Mike Houston after a long stretch of losing football. Here’s the record for the East Carolina program during the past ten football seasons:
Looking back on East Carolina’s progression as a football program, it simply floundered during much of the past decade, but that’s not always been the case. During the mid-1990s, East Carolina produced some good football teams, including the 1996 team that took down Miami 31-6. The Hurricanes were a nationally ranked team at the time and simply received a beat down at the hands of the Pirates on that evening.
Teams Going in two Separate Directions?
As mentioned above, the Pirates won three games in a row. UCF, meanwhile, lost its last two games. There’s much riding on this game Saturday evening. Will the Knights be ready to take on a Pirates team that’s surging?
There’s something about redemption, and there’s also something about being confident while on a winning streak. East Carolina’s defense has been the catalyst for much of the last three games despite giving up 97 points during those three games.
It’s about turnovers. That would be the category that the Pirates hand their hat on. It’s also how the Pirates win close football games.
Close Games, East Carolina Compared to UCF
With games decided by seven points or less so far in 2021, East Carolina’s record sits at 2-1, and UCF’s record would be 1-2. As referenced in today’s podcast of The Daily Knight, it’s often the little things that lead to victory. Here’s an example.
While UCF sits at 2-2, one of the reasons would be a lack of consistently making the routine play. It could be jumping offsides, perhaps missing a tackle that would otherwise seem mundane, and then there are the turnovers that have plagued UCF this season at really bad times.
The Knights sit at even with the turnover margin, but there’s more. Two of UCF’s interceptions were returned for touchdowns. That just cannot happen. UCF overcame the first one against Boise State, while the second against Louisville was a back breaker.
Against the Pirates, UCF needs to create a big turnover. A play that changes momentum and leads directly to a score. Perhaps a player like linebacker Jeremiah Jean-Baptise will be that player for UCF. He will be a big part of the responsibility to help slow down East Carolina running back Keaton Mitchell, and also keep signal caller Holton Ahlers inside the pocket where he’s more likely to make a costly mistake.
East Carolina proved to be more fortuitous. The Pirates hold a plus-five turnover margin, including intercepting six passes over the past three games, all of which they won.
Negative-yardage plays and turnovers matter. When there’s an opportunity for UCF against East Carolina, it needs to be seized. Too many sacks and possible interceptions were missed because of physical or mental errors so far this season.
Now let’s see which team comes out and plays with more emotion and also pays attention to detail to generate those types of plays. East Carolina proved it can do that so far, while UCF was not nearly as consistent. In a close game, those are two of the more important categories to monitor.
For UCF insights, college football news, and recruiting information go to: The Daily Knight podcast. It will be found on iTunes and Spotify. For more UCF and recruiting information, go to Twitter: @fbscout_florida and @UCF_FanNation, as well as my YouTube Channel and Instagram page. Like and Subscribe!