Pirates open C-USA play against Golden Eagles

With both teams coming off losses, both ECU and Southern Miss look to get their seasons back on track in a key Conference USA matchup. Kickoff from M.M. Roberts Stadium is at 3:30 pm ET and will be broadcasted on the CBS Sports Network (TV) and the Pirate IMG Sports Network (Radio).

After last week's game that I have now dubbed "The Columbian Massacre," the Pirates are looking bounce back against their bitter C-USA rivals, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. This is not the same USM football team that won the conference championship and defeated the Pirates 48-28 last year though. With current UNC head coach Larry Fedora now out of the fold, the Golden Eagles are now head-manned by Ellis Johnson, who actually was the defensive ends and linebackers coach at ECU from 1985-1987. Similar to the Pirates, USM made a quarterback change this week and will start true freshman Anthony Alford. Alford did see a lot of action in his first career game against Nebraska though, carrying the ball fifteen times for 84 yards on the ground. Despite his inexperience, it is apparent that Alford is a multi-dimensional weapon at the quarterback position and won't be an easy player to shut down. Another player the Pirates need to watch is Tracy Lampley, who has explosive speed and can change games, especially in the return game. Last time these teams played, Lampley returned a punt for a score and found the endzone again in their opener with a 100 yard kickoff return.

For ECU, they will be relying on sophomore quarterback Shane Carden to lead the Pirates to victory in his first career start. Carden was brought in to run the Air-Raid offense that Head Coach Ruffin McNeil and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley brought with them from Texas Tech, and has proved to be the more mobile quarterback between him and Rio Johnson. The Pirates should also expect to see a lot of the same things defensively from USM because Ellis Johnson was previously South Carolina's defensive coordinator. Injury-wise, the Pirates will be without cornerback Leonard Paulk, nose-tackle Michael Brooks and defensive-end Justin Dixon while cornerbacks Kristopher Sykes and Jacobi Jenkins are questionable.

Keys to the game

1. Give Carden confidence early- It is important for the Pirates to get Shane Carden into the game early and allow him to have confidence that he can run the offense and go out and win the game on the road.

2. Pound that rock- With less than twenty carries against USC and only three in the first half, the Pirates abandoned their running game early on. That can't happen against USM. ECU has personnel in that department, so even if not successful early in the game, they should stay committed to running the ball. It's also a good way to relieve pressure off a young quarterback.

3. Turnovers- This one feels like a given. It doesn't matter who they're playing, the Pirates can't expect to win many games after turning over the ball five times. To have a chance of winning on the road in a hostile environment, ECU must win the turnover battle.

When it's all said and done, both of these teams are mirror images of each other and it's going to be a fantastic game, as it usually shapes up to be when these two teams meet. I do like the Pirates in this one.

Prediction: East Carolina- 31, Southern Miss- 24

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