UC vs. ECU – Can the Cats Claw Their Way to a W Thursday Night?

This Thursday the Bearcats face the ECU Pirates. We have marked this game from the time the schedule was released.  If UC can escape ECU, then in all likelihood they should be able to beat UConn, Temple, and Houston, and at least secure a share of the conference title, with Memphis of all teams.

Who is ECU?

The East Carolina Pirates were ranked 21st in the country before being upset in its last game, 20-10 by Temple.  ECU senior quarterback, Shane Carden, is piloting the nation’s 3rd ranked passing attack, averaging 349 yards passing per game.  Carden is ranked as the 6th available QB prospect for the NFL draft.

His partner in crime is senior receiver, Justin Hardy, who needs just 19 more catches to set the NCAA career record, held by former Oklahoma star Ryan Broyles. Hardy is projected as a second to third-round NFL draft pick.

The Pirates also have a solid defense, ranked 8th in the country against the run and 23rd overall.

ECU head coach, Ruffin McNeil, is 35-24 in his five years at the school. ECU is 6-2, 3-1 in the AAC, with a win over VA Tech (after the Hokies beat OSU) and a blowout over North Carolina (the Tar Heels barely lost to Notre Dame).

Who Starts at Quarterback?

Munchie led the Cats to a victory over Tulane after Gunner threw a pick and re-aggravated his rib injury on the first play of the opening drive.  He also started the second half against USF, leading UC to a win.  Munchie has played in every game this year, but has not started.  He is healthy and has plenty of experience under his belt.  The problem is that he doesn’t have Gunner’s Golden Arm.  This will also be a different opponent.  ECU is the cream of the crop in the AAC, not a bottom feeder. If healthy, there is no question – Gunner should start.  How healthy is Gunner Kiel?  He will have 13 days of rest since the Tulane win.  Is this enough?  Tuberville is not showing his hand, and has not released who he intends to start.  Tubbs has indicated he does not want to “flip flop” QBs.

My vote is to start Gunner as we did against Tulane.  If he is not himself, put Munchie in for the remainder of the game and adjust the offense accordingly.  Gunner brings a much needed deep ball threat.  However, Munchie is more mobile against the rush, and appears to have limited his interception tendencies from past years.  UC also is beginning to show a running game with Mike Boone.  Regardless of who starts, they have weapons at receiver as well, including Johnny Holton.

Weather and Ticket Sales?

The forecast for Thursday is a high of 36 degrees, low of 23 degrees, and a 10% chance of rain.  I am not predicting a rainstorm as it did for Temple in their upset win over ECU last week, but the cold will certainly affect the offensive finesse of both teams.

UC athletic director Mike Bohn said the school has sold 26,000 tickets, and is hoping to reach 29,000. The combination of cold weather, a week night, using Paul Brown Stadium, the game being televised on ESPN2, and a battle of unranked teams in all likelihood will affect attendance.

Who Wins? 

Bearcats get the W, 28-24 on a frigid Ohio fall night.  Cold weather and home field advantage tilt the scales in favor of the Cats.  Both teams are coming off bye weeks, but in opposite directions.  ECU last lost to Temple, and has not looked good the past few weeks against South Florida and Connecticut.  For what it’s worth, UC has outscored ECU against their two common opponents, SMU and USF.

UC is slowly, but surely, improving each and every game. The Cats now have a running game to accompany a semblance of a defense, creating key turnovers.  After starting 2-3, Cincinnati responded with a three-game win streak, outscoring opponents 113-34.   While ECU is stout on the defensive line, they ranked 80th in the nation against the pass.  The Cats will be able to pass with Munchie or Gunner, given a cabinet of receiver weapons at their disposal.  Obviously, a healthy Gunner has the potential to shred the ECU secondary (fingers crossed he will be close to 100%).

The Cats have beaten ECU the last three times they have faced off, but are losing the all-time series, 12-5.

The line on the game favors ECU by 2.5 points.

By Technical Writer: Andy Smith