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FIU takes on one of the more balanced and stronger teams in Conference USA on Saturday when East Carolina faces the Panthers for the first time. The Pirates lead the East Division of C-USA and are in their final season in the conference before moving to the American Athletic Conference next season.
FIUSports.com will carry a live video stream of the game and you can also listen to the game on the FIU Sports Radio Network. Join me and former FIU linebacker James Knapp for the call of the game beginning at 5:55 p.m. CLICK HERE to access the game.
East Carolina runs a NASCAR-type spread offense where the Pirates like going at a fast pace and running as many plays as possible. The Pirates offense will test the FIU defense’s endurance with the way they operate. ECU averages 37 points per game and 82 plays per game. The FIU defense is coming off one of its best games of the season last week against Louisiana Tech, where the Panthers allowed just one touchdown.
ECU quarterback Shane Carden is completing 75 percent of his passes and at the same time can run with the ball if need be. FIU’s secondary might be down its best cover corner if Sam Miller is unavailable due to injury. That would possibly leave walk-ons Randy Harvey and Brad Hyman-Muhammad with starting cornerback assignments. The Panthers defensive line and linebackers will need to apply constant pressure on Carden to help out the secondary. FIU’s defensive line is plenty talented to wreak havoc in the ECU backfield.
On the offensive side, quarterback E.J. Hilliard gets the starting nod for FIU. As Hilliard mentioned earlier in the week, the Panthers offense needs to get first downs to not only keep the chains moving, but to keep the high-powered ECU offense off the field. The FIU running game will be key in establishing ball control for the Panthers.
An area in the Pirates defense that the Panthers could test is the secondary. ECU has had its share of trouble defending the pass this season. FIU tight ends could be targeted often by Hilliard. Deep threat receiver T.J. Lowder could also have a productive night against the ECU pass defense.
The Panthers need to be wary of the Pirates kick return teams. ECU is 10th in the nation in punt return and third in the nation in kickoff return averaging 28.9 yards per return. Neither return unit for ECU has scored a touchdown this season but they have a pair of receivers that can go the distance in Lance Ray (29.4 kickoff return average) and Justin Hardy (14.9 punt return average).
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