“I promise you I haven’t mentioned SMU,” coach Dana Holgorsen said on his weekly appearance on ESPN 97.5 FM. “It’s been all about East Carolina.”
UH and East Carolina have history, and it’s split down the middle with the all-time series tied 7-7. The Pirates (3-3, 1-1 AAC) have won three of their last four games, narrowly losing at Central Florida 20-16 before last week’s open date.
“There wasn’t any looking ahead,” Holgorsen said. “This is a dangerous team coming in.”
1. Keep the momentum
There’s been no problem out of the gate for the Cougars in any game, outscoring opponents 73-7 in the first quarter this season. Entering the open date, UH was playing its best stretch of the season with a five-game winning streak.
How will the Cougars respond after a 16-day gap between games? Holgorsen said the team used the open date to get healthy, work on self-scouting and catch a breather as they head into the second half of the season.
“I think we’re energized and ready to get out there,” he said.
When/where: 3 p.m. Saturday; TDECU Stadium
TV/radio: ESPNU/950 AM
2. Freshmen take center stage
One won’t see this often, but both backfields will showcase a couple of the top freshmen in the nation.
UH’s Alton McCaskill is second nationally among true freshmen in total touchdowns (nine), rushing touchdowns (eight) and scoring (54 points). He’s had three touchdowns in two games against Rice and Tulsa.
Thanks to improvement on the offensive line, UH’s run game has shown improvement, averaging 145.2 yards during the team’s winning streak.
This could be a game McCaskill, Ta’Zhawn Henry and Co. find some running room as the Pirates gave up 226 rushing yards to Appalachian State and 214 to Marshall.
East Carolina counters with the 1-2 punch of Keaton Mitchell and Rahjai Harris. Both are in their second years but classify as freshmen because of the NCAA’s bonus year of eligibility. Mitchell is a big-play threat who has run for 639 yards and is averaging eye-popping 8.3 yards per carry, tops in the AAC. Before managing 65 yards in the Pirates’ last game at Central Florida, Mitchell had posted three straight 100-yard games, including 222 yards against Tulane. Harris was the team’s leading rusher in 2020 with 624 yards and named the AAC’s Rookie of the Year.
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3. Watch the coverage
East Carolina’s Ja’Quan McMillian, a 5-10, 183-pound junior, is one of the top cornerbacks in the nation and NFL prospect. McMillian has four interceptions and 12 pass breakups through six games, both No. 1 in FBS. He likely will match up against UH’s leading receiver Nathaniel Dell, who has a team-best 35 catches for 477 yards and three touchdowns.
Dell suffered an undisclosed injury against Tulane but is expected to play Saturday.
UH quarterback Clayton Tune will need to be careful as the Pirates are tied for 10th nationally with nine interceptions.aside">
UH’s pass defense ranks fifth nationally, allowing just 156 yards per game. The Cougars are deep in the secondary and feature two lockdown cornerbacks in Marcus Jones and Damarion Williams. Jones gets most of the attention, although Williams has emerged as one of the toughest cover men in the league. Few teams try to throw in their direction.
4. Keep the pressure on
Holgorsen calls “Sack Avenue” his favorite street in Houston — and with good reason. UH’s defensive line has lived up to the nickname as the Cougars have 25 sacks, an average 4.17 per game that ranks third in the nation.
UH is coming off an eight-sack performance against Tulane.
Five different players have at least three sacks for the Cougars, led by Logan Hall with four. East Carolina has struggled with pass protection and given up 22 sacks this season.
Constant pressure could be trouble for Pirates quarterback Holton Ahlers, who has struggled with inconsistency (59.9 percent).
5. Honoring the past
As part of Saturday’s homecoming celebration, UH will recognize the 10-year anniversary of the 2011 team. Led by record-setting quarterback Case Keenum, the Cougars went 13-1 and just missed a spot in the Bowl Championship Series.
Source : https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/college/article/Houston-vs-East-Carolina-5-things-to-watch-16555838.php1185