Even the best are dead wrong about a team from time to time. Many people expected the Cincinnati Bearcats to be a significant factor in the American Athletic Conference East Division. Through three conference games, the Bearcats are still in search of their first conference triumph. The East Carolina Pirates have given the Bearcats some company in that boat, as they are 0-2 in conference play thus far. With tons of additional prep time after last week’s game against Navy was postponed, the upset-minded Pirates are being given quite a bit of respect for Saturday night’s clash at Nippert Stadium.
East Carolina vs. Cincinnati College Football Preview
Date/Time: Saturday October 22, 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
College Football Betting Odds from 5Dimes
College Football Betting Favorite: Cincinnati -2
Things started off so promising for Scottie Montgomery in his first season with ECU after the Pirates made the stunning decision to fire Ruffin McNeill. The former Duke offensive coordinator started out 2-0 with a couple of straight up and ATS wins over Western Carolina and NC State, a win that looks even more impressive now. Since then, however, the Pirates have dropped four straight in the standings column and in the ATS standings column. Things haven’t gone much better for Cincinnati. Tommy Tuberville’s team has dropped four straight against the number and five of six this season. The Bearcats are 3-0, but their wins are over Tennessee-Martin, Purdue, and Miami of Ohio. They haven’t been competitive in any of their three conference games.
East Carolina Pirates:
It’s been a weird season for Minnesota transfer Philip Nelson. After starting the season 105-of-133 for 1,095 yards, he’s tailed off pretty dramatically. Nelson has faced some better competition to be sure, with Virginia Tech, UCF, and South Florida all on the ledger since then, but injuries and a lack of pass protection have really stunted his development as the signal caller for this offense. Fortunately, he has the surest hands in the country on his side, as Zay Jones has caught 84 balls for 840 yards. Former quarterback James Summers has rushed for 5.6 yards per carry. This is a decent offense when Nelson is upright, but he’s had some issues with that. Gardner Minshew relieved Nelson against USF and threw a touchdown and an interception. Montgomery may be looking at the future a bit more often with Minshew.
The Pirates had some time to fix their problems on defense thanks to Hurricane Matthew, which postponed their game against Navy. The Pirates have given up 32.7 points and 420 yards per game, even though they’ve only faced an average of 65 plays per contest. Their 6.4 yards per play allowed rates as one of the worst in this conference and it’s pretty much all come from the last three games. South Carolina did nothing against the Pirates, but Virginia Tech, USF, and South Florida ran up 139 points on this defense. First-year DC Kenwick Thompson was formerly at Vanderbilt as the linebackers coach, so this unit should progressively improve during the Montgomery years, but that improvement may not come quickly. Fortunately for the Pirates, Cincinnati’s offensive efficiency hasn’t been there.
The Bearcats weren’t sure whether or not they wanted to go with Hayden Moore or Gunner Kiel. Well, they went with Moore and dropped Kiel to third-string QB. Moore missed the games against Miami of Ohio and South Florida and freshman Ross Trail wound up throwing five interceptions and one touchdown pass over those two games. The Bearcats have little semblance of a running game with just 3.6 yards per carry and the quarterbacks have taken 13 sacks so far through six games. Offensive line play has been a disaster for Cincinnati and that’s why they are averaging less than 400 yards per game despite an average of 75 plays per contest.
Surprisingly, the Cincinnati defense has played pretty well overall this season. They’ve held opponents to 25.3 points per game and just 419 yards per game on an average of 76 plays. However, context is very important in these situations. Cincinnati has played UT-Martin, Purdue, Houston, Miami of Ohio, South Florida, and UConn. Only two of those teams have legitimate offenses. Houston hung a 40 spot and South Florida hung a 45 spot. With that in mind, it’s tough to truly evaluate this defense going up against a balanced ECU team with a premier possession receiver.
College Football Free Pick: East Carolina Pirates +2
The week-to-week grind of the CFB season is tough on players, but it can also be tough on coaches. Scottie Montgomery got some additional time to coach up his team and also catch his own breath in his first year as a head coach. Cincinnati is coming off of a bye week as well, but this line would indicate that they are an underdog to ECU on the road. Nippert Stadium is a decent home field, but there’s not much to get excited about with the Bearcats at this stage of the game.
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