Gameday preview: East Carolina

Kyle Gauss, Assistant Editor
Owl Scoop

AT A GLANCE

Temple (2-3, 0-2 The American) at East Carolina (1-4, 1-1 The American)

Saturday, Oct. 7, Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, noon

Television: ESPNU

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Head coaches:

Temple

Geoff Collins (Western Carolina ’94)

Overall record: 2-3 (first season)

Record at Temple: 2-3 (first season)

East Carolina

Scottie Montgomery (Duke ’00)

Overall record: 4-13 (2nd season)

Record at ECU: 4-13 (2nd season)


Key Players

TEMPLE

QB Logan Marchi981 passing yards, six touchdowns, six interceptions

RB Ryquell Armstead73 carries, 243 yards (3.3 yards per carry), five catches for 19 yards

WR Isaiah Wright15 catches, 247 receiving yards, one receiving TD, seven carries for 17 yards

LB Chappelle Russell37 tackles, 2.5 TFL

S Delvon Randall40 tackles, three TFL, one sack, one interception

EAST CAROLINA

QB Thomas Sirk – 1,129 passing yards, six touchdowns, six interceptions, 159 rushing yards and two rushing TDs

WR Davon Grayson29 catches, 495 yards, five receiving TDs

WR Trevon Brown21 catches, 365 yards, two receiving TDs

DL Kiante Anderson – 22 tackles, 4.5 TFL, three sacks

DB Korrin Wiggins41 tackles, one TFL, one interception


When Temple's on offense

Even when you keep in mind that East Carolina has played two Top 25 teams on the road so far this season, the Pirates defense is putting up some staggering numbers – in a bad way, that is.

To say the Pirates have had trouble keeping opponents out of the end zone would be a bit of an understatement. ECU has given up an average of 50.6 points in five games for a total of 253 points, a mark that is the second worst in the nation. By comparison, Temple’s 2016 defense gave up a total of 258 points over the course of 14 games. No FBS team has finished the season giving up more than 50 points per game since SportsReference.com started tracking NCAA stats in 2000. In fact, only two teams (2015 SMU and 2014 SMU) in American Athletic Conference history have averaged more than 40 points allowed per game since the league’s creation, let alone 50.

Opponents have been able to take advantage of both ECU's rush and pass defense. Through the air, ECU's foes have thrown for an average of 314.8 yards and 3.2 touchdowns per game. On the ground, the Pirates have allowed an average of 301 rushing yards per contest and 6.2 yards per carry. Put those two marks together and ECU is giving up an average of 615.8 yards per contest. That’s the worst in the nation.

Even in their lone win, a 41-38 victory over UConn in East Hartford on Sept. 24, the Pirates gave up 596 yards, including 406 passing yards. They even allowed 614 yards to FCS program James Madison in their season opener. Last week’s 61-31 loss to South Florida was actually ECU's best defensive performance, yards-wise. The Pirates allowed the Bulls to put up a meager 575 yards of offense in the loss.

ECU has logged just five sacks and has never had more than one sack in a game this season. The only player with more than one sack is senior defensive end Kiante Anderson, who has gotten to the quarterback three times. Anderson’s total, which has only included one sack in the last three games, is the fourth best mark in the conference.

Clemson transfer Korrin Wiggins roams the backfield for the Pirates.The 6-foot Wiggins had four interceptions during his time at Clemson, including an interception in a bowl win over Oklahoma in 2014, but missed the 2015 season and played in just six games for the national champions last year. Instead of staying for his last year, however, Wiggins transferred to ECU and is now second on the team with 41 tackles, has a tackle for a loss and has also snagged an interception. Wiggins’ lone pick accounts for half of ECU’s interceptions on the year.

The Pirates run a bit of a 4-2-5 under defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson, which means the Pirates usually only have two inside linebackers on the field in favor of an extra defensive back. The formation is new this year, but most of the players in the defense have experience at the collegiate level. Only one starter is a redshirt freshman, with seven seniors, a junior and two sophomores filling out the rest of the defense.

While Temple lost last week to Houston, it showed signs of life on offense in the second half. Once Temple’s ground game, which finished with 142 yards but 150 yards in the second half, got going, the Owls outplayed Houston the rest of the way.

That same formula should work against the Pirates. Temple running back Ryquell Armstead remains banged up but managed to carry the ball 14 times last week against the Cougars to the tune of 63 yards. A healthy dosage of Armstead, coupled with carries by David Hood, Isaiah Wright and possibly walk-on Travon Williams, should set the Owls up to take advantage of a porous rushing defense.

Everything is set up for this to be the type of game that jumpstarts Temple’s offense and makes up for some horrendous offensive performances this season. The Owls should be able to either rush or pass their way to a big day, depending on which path they choose. Basically, if the Owls do not get things going against this Pirates defense, they may never right their ship.

When Temple's on defense

For as bad as ECU's defense has been, the Pirates have put up some decent numbers on offense. While Scottie Montgomery’s team has averaged just 24.6 points per game, the offense has also accounted for 425.6 yards per game, including 318.6 passing yards per game.

Duke transfer Thomas Sirk has regained his starting job after getting injured in ECU's Week 2 loss at West Virginia. The graduate transfer has completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 1,129 yards and six touchdowns. Sirk has thrown for 300 or more yards in back to back games but also threw two interceptions against South Florida last week. Where Sirk has particularly excelled as of late is on the ground game, as he scrambled 18 times for 87 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulls.

Sirk is ECU’s leading rusher this year with 159 rushing yards. After Sirk, ECU’s rushing prospects look bleak. Clemson transfer Tyshon Dye started his Pirates career with a solid 71-yard performance against West Virginia but has averaged just 21.7 yards per game over ECU’s last three games. Tennessee transfer Derrell Scott has two touchdowns this year but had just two carries against USF. Dye, Scott and the rest of ECU's running backs have accounted for just 71.4 rushing yards per game. Even with Sirk’s mobility, the Pirates are averaging just 107 rushing yards per game.

The Pirates have a talented receiving group, headlined by three seniors and a junior. Senior Davon Grayson has taken over the Zay Jones role after sitting out the 2016 season. Grayson has caught 29 passes for 495 yards and five touchdowns this season. The 6-2 Grayson has also carried the ball twice for 14 yards this season. Junior wideout Trevon Brown, who also missed the 2016 season, is second on the team with 21 catches for 365 yards. Seniors Quay Johnson and Jimmy Williams are also productive receivers and have combined to catch 31 passes for 377 yards this year. The Pirates have not received much receiving production from the tight end position, as senior starter Steve Baggett has caught just three passes this year.

ECU is not afraid to ramp up the speed, as the Pirates are No. 30 in the nation at 78 offensive plays per game. The sheer number of plays ECU runs allows for the Pirates to put up some decent yardage numbers but also lends itself to potential mistakes. So far this season, the Pirates are No. 106 in the nation with 36 penalties for 340 yards. The Pirates have also turned the ball over 11 times this season, which is No. 116 in the nation. Sirk can be particularly careless with the ball and has recorded two interceptions in three of his four games this year.

In order to shut down ECU's offense, Temple will need a strong performance from its secondary, and from graduate transfer cornerback Mike Jones in particular. Jones got called for a ticky-tack pass interference call in the loss against Houston but battled with Steven Dunbar all day long and held the talented wideout to six catches for a manageable 78 yards in what might have been Jones’ best game as an Owl to date. The Pirates have depth at the wide receiver position, however, which means players like Linwood Crump and Derek Thomas will be relied upon heavily, in addition to Jones and fellow starter Artrel Foster.

Temple’s defense played its best game of the season last week, mostly in the second half. If the Owls can replicate that performance, they should be able to hold ECU in check enough to escape North Carolina with their first conference win of the season.

Extra Points

Last year’s 37-10 Temple win was the largest margin of victory in the series’ history. Overall, ECU owns a 7-6 advantage over Temple but has not defeated the Owls since 1995…ECU wide receivers coach Keith Gaither was Temple’s wide receivers coach at signing day but did not last much longer. Gaither, who replaced Frisman Jackson, resigned to take the ECU job in March and was replaced by Stan Hixon…Last time Temple played ECU, Adonis Jennings had the first 100-yard game of his career. Jennings caught six passes for 100 yards in the win…Graduate transfer cornerback Mike Jones faced ECU quarterback Thomas Sirk when the former was at North Carolina Central and the latter was at Duke. While Sirk’s Duke team won, 55-0, Jones recorded a tackle for a loss and a breakup.


What to Read Next