Star fades on ECU-Tulsa matchupPublished 7:07pm Monday, November 4, 2013
GREENVILLE — It was supposed to be a potential preview of the Conference USA title game, but as it turns out East Carolina’s contest with Tulsa this Saturday will just be another in a string of battles against conference teams with losing records.
It wasn’t so long ago that East Carolina’s matchup with defending Conference USA champions Tulsa was viewed as one of, if not the, premier league game of the 2013 season. However, as it draws near the beauty has faded like an aging pop star.
The Pirates, who clinched bowl eligibility with their 34-13 victory over Florida International, have kept up their end of the bargain, entering Saturday’s matchup sitting in the East Division lead with a 6-2 (4-1) record.
However, Tulsa (2-6, 1-3) has stumbled upon tough times this season, and with two straight losses, finds itself sitting in fifth place in the West Division.
When the two teams take the field Saturday at 3:45 p.m. it will mark the Pirates third straight game against a C-USA team with a losing record, and that streak will expand to four next week when they host UAB (2-6, 1-3) at 2 p.m.
So far this season ECU has played in two conference games against teams with winning records and split the matchups, having first topped Middle Tennessee State (24-17) before losing 36-33 in triple OT to Tulane (6-3, 4-1).
On Monday, East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said that injuries and graduated players have at least played a part in Tulsa’s demise.
“I’m not sure. I’m not inside their program. I know they came off a great year and coach Bill Blankenship had built for that,” McNeill said. “They lost some key players. I know they have some young players starting and had some injuries there too as well. … I know they play hard, extremely hard when you’re watching them on film.”
The last time these two teams faced off against one another was on Sept. 5, 2010, when McNeill made his coaching debut with East Carolina. The Pirates were able to beat the Hurricane 51-49 as Justin Jones hauled in a Dominique Davis Hail Mary pass as time expired in the fourth quarter.
“(That game) has a special meaning,” McNeill said. “After the game (former ECU AD Terry Holland) gave me the game ball for my first win and I still have that.”
The two teams have faced each other a total of 10 times and have won five games each.
What a rush
The Pirates defense may have surrendered an 11-minute scoring drive to FIU in the second quarter, but that was about its only blemish of the day.
Led by sophomore OLB Montese Overton, ECU turned up the heat on the Panthers, racking up a season-high nine sacks, while holding an opponent to under 100 rushing yards for the sixth time this season.
Overton, who made key sacks in the third and fourth quarters, finished the game with six stops.
“Montese has played well all year on defense and special teams,” McNeill said. “He’s really improved his technique. He’s maturing before my eyes. … He came up with some timely plays.”
Wolfpack blow back
N.C. State’s “new” midfield logo caught the attention of Pirates’ fans over the weekend who couldn’t help but notice the striking resemblance to East Carolina’s.
Unveiled for the N.C. State-UNC game, the logo features a wolf’s head inside the outline of the state of North Carolina, very similar to the one the Pirates have used since 2009, except ECU has a pirate in the middle of its design.
When asked about it on Monday McNeill simply said, “I think imitation is the greatest form of flattery.”
Pirates starting right tackle Adhem Elsawi sat out Saturday’s game with an eye injury and will miss this weekend’s battle with Tulsa. McNeill said he expects Elsawi to be sidelined for four weeks.
On the bright side, starting ILB Jeremy Grove (chest/shoulder) will be more involved in practice this week and is listed as probable for Saturday.
Senior H-Back Zico Pasut has been progressing well from a foot injury and could be back in time for the Pirates’ season finale with Marshall.