ORLANDO - It’s time to get the offense into high gear. UCF needs to start scoring 40 or more points because the schedule will not suddenly become easier with East Carolina this week or Cincinnati the week after.
Here’s a closer look at the Pirates. They present a challenge that’s hard to pass up. The East Carolina defense can be quite vulnerable to the running game, something UCF likes to utilize to begin with.
With that in mind, here are some key notes about the Pirates, beginning with information about their rush defense.
Struggling to Stop the Run
Here are the rushing numbers, by game, that the Pirates allowed:
Appalachian State - 36 carries for 226 yards, a 6.3 average, and two touchdowns.
South Carolina - 39 carries for 99 yards, a 2.5 average, and zero touchdowns.
Marshall - 36 carries for 214 yards, a 5.9 average, and four touchdowns
Charleston Southern - 39 carries for 131 yards, a 3.7 average, and two touchdowns.
Tulane - 31 carries for 124 yards, a 4.0 average, and three touchdowns.
Beyond the odd beat down of South Carolina’s rushing attack, the lone SEC school on this list, East Carolina struggled to stop the run. When eliminating the South Carolina game, the Pirates relinquished a whopping 173.8 yards rushing per game.
When considering all five games, the Pirates still allowed 158.8 yards rushing per contest. That’s the No. 89 rushing defense in the country.
One of the reasons for the lack of rushing defensive success would be youth. The Pirates are young across their front line, with three listed starters as redshirt freshman and or a true freshman. There is some playmaking ability within that young group, however.
Redshirt Freshman Immanuel Hickman, at 6'3", 263 pounds, recorded six tackles for loss so far this season, and he’s added 15 tackles overall. He’s flanked by freshman defensive tackle Suirad Ware, who's only 6'0", 276 pounds. He made 2.5 tackles for loss so far this season.
The second level does much better, and does so with more experience.
Linebacker Myles Berry is a 6’1”, 219 pound redshirt junior that does a good job from his middle linebacker position. He’s totaled 28 stops so far this season. Another linebacker that could be described as a hybrid linebacker/safety would be Jireh Wilson.
While just 6’3”, 202 pounds, Wilson already accumulated 25 tackles, including two tackles for loss. Near the line of scrimmage, the third linebacker to watch would be Bruce Bivens, a fifth-year senior linebacker that’s recorded 24 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Moving to the secondary, it needs to be respected when the Knights throw the football.
Pass Defense is a Risk-Reward Situation
With eight interceptions as a unit, the Pirates rank No. 7 in the country. It’s a team that will take some chances if the football is in the area, so UCF quarterback Mikey Keene needs to be careful with the football.
The Pirates also give up some big plays, so there’s a risk and a reward when throwing against this defensive unit. Here are the passing statistics for teams that went against ECU so far this season:
Appalachian State - 20/27, 74.1%, 259 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
South Carolina - 13/24, 54.2%, 225 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Marshall - 24/40, 60.0%, 433 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions
Charleston Southern - 38/61, 62.3%, 390 yards, two touchdowns and one Interception.
Tulane - 23/38, 60.5%, 280 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
One of the best cornerbacks in the nation plays for the Pirates, and that would be Ja’Quan McMillian, a 5’10” 160 pound junior. He’s picked off four passes so far through five games, tying him with two other players for the No. 1 spot in all of college football's FBS level of play.
McMillian also recorded an interception during each of his past three games. That’s a player to be wary of regardless of the situation because he’s also a good tackler, leading the team with 33 stops.
The East Carolina Pass Rush Proved to be Solid Thus Far
The Pirates only sacked the quarterback 12 times through five games. Considering teams attempted an additional 190 passes that did not lead to sacks, that’s a modest 5.9% sacks per passing attempt.
With UCF’s offensive line being quite experienced, this will be a game where the Knights need to run the football to keep Keene in good down and distance situations, and then attack the Pirates secondary other than McMillian.
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