TD and the PAT: 7 Reasons why ECU can beat the Wolfpack in the opener

Published 4:39 pm Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The East Carolina University Pirates are under a new regime with head coach Mike Houston. Since Houston’s arrival, he has been adamant about his players being ready for a change. That, among other reasons are why they have a chance at knocking off archrival, North Carolina State University on Aug. 31.


  1. Mike Houston doesn’t lose too often

Houston bolsters an 80-25 record as a head coach all-time. He’s coached three different teams to the playoffs that include, Division-II’s Lenoir-Rhyne and Football Championship Subdivisions (FCS) The Citadel and James Madison University. Houston has led his teams to six playoff appearances out of eight seasons with an FCS National Championship coaching the Dukes in 2016.


  1. Sophomore quarterback Holton Ahlers

Ahlers burst onto the scene last year as a freshman, playing in 10 games for the Pirates. The D.H. Conley alum was only 48.3% through the air last season for 1,785 yards, but he threw for 12 touchdowns with only three interceptions. On the ground, Ahlers rushed for 5.0 yards per carry with 592 yards on 119 attempts with six touchdowns. The then-freshman quarterback did not play against the Wolfpack in the season finale due to injury, so N.C. State will get its first look at Ahlers in August.


  1. N.C. State’s departure of Ryan Finley

Finley was riddled with injuries early on in his college career at Boise State, but the graduate transfer excelled in Raleigh with the Wolfpack. In his 2016 campaign, he started all 13 games, completing 242 of 402 passes (60.4%) with 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions on the season. He improved his completion percentage all three years for the Wolfpack. In 2018, he threw 484 passes and completed 67.4% of them for 3,928 yards with 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Those numbers will be tough to match for two QB’s battling for the starting spot, Matthew McKay and redshirt freshman Devin Leary.


  1. Returning starters

ECU has 45 returning bodies not including the latest recruiting class. The Pirates have six offensive returning starters and seven on defense, which is crucial for a first-year head coach to have at least some stability within the roster.


  1. N.C. State offensive rebuild

The Wolfpack have had some success in recent past, but this year things are a little different with a new quarterback under center. Every year since 2000 when the Wolfpack started a new QB, they returned at least 54% of their offensive production on offense. (Phillip Rivers, 62%, Jay Davis, 65%, Mike Glennon, 54%, Pete Thomas/Brandon Mitchell, 69%, Jacoby Brissett, 60% and Ryan Finley, 83%) This year, N.C. State’s quarterback will play with an offense that only accounted for 37% of the yards from scrimmage in 2018.


  1. ECU doesn’t stay down for long

The Pirates are hungry. After three consecutive 3-9 seasons, they’re ready for a change. A new coach, a young quarterback and a solid recruiting class are three key ingredients to a fresh start. The Pirates were 10-3 and 8-5 in 2013 and 2014 and were bowl eligible in eight out of nine seasons between 2006 and 2014.


THE PAT: The rivalry

There is a long, storied history between these two squads. Before last year’s 58-3 drubbing, the Pirates won the previous three games in the series. Last year on the week of the matchup, East Carolina fired head coach Scottie Montgomery, thus, never giving the Pirates much of a chance especially with Ahlers out with an injury. N.C. State leads the all-time series, 17-13. The last ECU win came on a 33-30 victory over the Wolfpack in 2016. Throw records and previous meetings out the window when these two meet. Two completely different teams will take the field on Aug. 31 at noon, ready to make a week one statement.