East Carolina’s goal of a Conference USA football championship remains
intact going into three league games on the road, starting at Louisville on
It will have been 33 days between home games — more than a month — when
the Pirates return to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to face Texas Christian on Nov.
A lot may happen in the meantime.
The Pirates visit Houston on Nov. 9 after their third open date of the
season, this one created by the shifting of the Cincinnati game, originally
scheduled for Nov. 2, to Friday night, Dec. 6 for ESPN 2.
Then there’s a trip to Birmingham to play UAB on Nov. 16. The Pirates
will try to become the first ECU football team to win a game in Alabama,
where ECU is 0-7 over the years. By then, ECU’s status as a contender or
also-ran in C-USA should be well defined.
“We know that if we can come back here with a 3-0 mark on that stretch
I’m sure our fans will be happy,” said ECU quarterback Paul Troth.
The Pirates (2-4, 2-0 C-USA) will be looking for their first road win of
the season at Papa John’s Stadium at 2 p.m. this Saturday. The most
recognizable performer for Louisville is senior quarterback Dave Ragone, who
has been the C-USA offensive player of the year the last two seasons.
“He’s a hard guy to get on the ground,” said Pirates coach Steve Logan.
Ragone is 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds and, like ex-ECU quarterback David
Garrard, can create excitement and yardage with his bullish scrambles.
Ragone states his running philosophy in simple terms.
“If I wanted to slide I would have played baseball,” he said.
Ragone will be a test for the Pirates’ defense but Troth doesn’t consider
the game a personal matchup with the Louisville left-hander.
“Saturday, I was excited to go up against (Marquel) Blackwell because
he’s probably one of the best senior quarterbacks in the nation,” Troth
said. “With his running ability and his accurate passing, I felt that in
comparison I compared very well, but the only thing that I looked at was the
win. He won the game so in that aspect, I lost.”
Troth threw for 339 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions
against South Florida while Blackwell had 321 yards, five touchdowns and no
picks. Troth completed 25 of 46 for 54.3 percent while Blackwell completed
19 of 33 for 57.6 percent.
Except for crucial turnovers which led to two Bulls touchdowns, Troth
compared favorably. But the 20-year old Troth will try not to think in terms
of an individual matchup with the 23-year old Ragone.
“I don’t ever go into it looking at it as quarterback versus
quarterback,” Troth said. “... I think what I did this weekend that helped
me out was that I didn’t focus on me versus Blackwell. I just focused on
running the play that Coach (Doug) Martin (offensive coordinator) called and
just executing and I felt that I did that.
“So if I can do that this week, maybe we’ll have another great shootout
as we always have with Louisville.”
Troth’s sense of ECU football history is right on target there. The Cards
and Pirates have met four times in C-USA and although ECU is averaging 38.0
points in those games, the Pirates are just 2-2 in league play against
Louisville. The Cards are averaging 39.5 points in C-USA games with ECU,
including a 63-45 win in Greenville in 1998.
Turnovers have plagued the Cardinals as well as the Pirates this season.
Louisville is a minus-8 on turnovers for the year while ECU is a minus-11.
Ragone has thrown 12 touchdowns and he’s been picked off six times. The
Cardinals’ slinger is completing 54.5 percent of his attempts for an average
of 236.1 yards per game. Essentially, the Cards have had to rely on Ragone
because their rushing offense is last in C-USA at 102.4 yards per game.
Defensively, Louisville is second in the league in total defense,
allowing opponents 312.6 yards per game. The Cards are fourth in C-USA is
scoring defense, yielding an average of 24.6 points per game. Defensive end
Dewayne White was the C-USA defensive player of the year in 2001 as
Louisville won its second straight league title.
“They have very good defense and we just played a very good defense from
South Florida and we put up some pretty good numbers against them,” said
Pirates receiver Richard Hourigan. “I feel like we’re going to do the same
against Louisville. We’re not intimidated at all. We’re looking forward to
the game. We, the receivers as a unit, don’t feel like there’s anybody who
can stop us as a unit if we go out there and execute.”
Louisville is coming off a somewhat surprising 45-31 loss at home to TCU.
That outcome dropped the Cards to 2-1 in league play and makes this a
must-win game against ECU in terms of Louisville’s bid for a third straight
“We’ve found out over the years that you can still contend with one loss
in the league but two losses and you’re more or less out,” Logan said
earlier this season.
Defensive tackle Ja’Waren Blair is part of a Pirates defensive front
which needs to contain and pressure Ragone. Blair and the Pirates would like
to preserve that zero in the league losses column.
“That’s a conference game and we have not lost in the conference yet,
like Southern Miss,” Blair said. “Every other team in the league has a
conference loss. If we can beat Louisville we can get this train rolling.
We’re ready to explode. We just have to do it.
“The 2-4 record. I know our fans do not like it. I don’t like it. It
hurts me but I’m not going to bail on my teammates. And I don’t think our
fans will bail on their team.”