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ECU offense looks for right combination

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East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers passes against N.C. State on Aug. 31, 2019.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Quarterback Holton Ahlers and senior running back Hussein Howe are set to lead the East Carolina football offense in Saturday's game against William & Mary.

The depth chart for ECU (1-2), which lost 42-10 at Navy on Saturday, distributed before first-year coach Mike Houston's news conference Tuesday featured Howe as the No. 1 running back followed by freshmen Demterius Mauney and Tay Williams. Not listed was Trace Christian or team-leading rusher Darius Pinnix, who is healing an undisclosed injury from the Sept. 7 game and did not play against Navy.

Howe started last week, and Navy finished with a 468-222 advantage in total yards in the rout, which dropped ECU to 98th in the nation in total offense at 355.0 yards per game.

"We have a lot of talented (running backs) and we have to continue to keep bringing Demetrius along, but Hussein is the oldest player in that room and I expect some veteran leadership from him," Houston said. "We are trying to challenge Tay and bring him along, because that is a kid I have a lot of hope for because he was buried under the doghouse back in the spring. He has grown up and is maturing and is starting to work better and develop some positive habits."

Players have been available to interview on Tuesdays after Houston's weekly address to local media, but this week it was only Houston.

Ahlers and backup Reid Herring have played in all three games this year, although as expected, it has been Ahlers on the field for the most meaningful minutes. His longest passing play through three games is a 41-yarder, but he has only one touchdown pass compared to three interceptions and is averaging 167.0 passing yards per outing.

"We have to have the right situations to actually take those shots (for long passes), and you have to make the play when you actually take the shot," said Houston, who with a 1-2 start at ECU has an 81-27 career record as a head coach. "Certainly, we had a couple on Saturday and some we didn't take advantage of, and we had one that maybe should have been caught. Certainly, we have to make those plays in our offensive scheme."

Amid offensive struggles against top-level competition -- the Pirates did not score a touchdown Week 1 at N.C. State, and their only TD at Navy was a 2-yard run by Ahlers during the fourth quarter to make it 42-10 -- Houston said execution is paramount heading into facing Football Championship Subdivision foe William & Mary (2-1) and its 3-4 defensive scheme.

"You have to be able to drive the football and move it consistently in order to really open your playbook up," he said.

Pinnix's 134 yards in Week 2 against Gardner-Webb gave him 157 for the season on 32 carries. Williams has been on the travel roster but has not received a carry, which could change this weekend, and Howe is fourth on the Pirates with 15 rushes for 48 yards.

Houston added that even after a frustrating defeat to the Midshipmen, who had a bye week before they hosted ECU and another one this week, the Pirates were upbeat for practice, and Houston expects that to continue during the coming days. He said players talked to him Sunday about being personally motivated to improve.

"The difference in effort and competing is a defensive player can line up correctly and know what his assignment is and give great effort, but does he make the tackle or make the pass breakup or the interception?" Houston said. "As a wide receiver, he can line up correctly and know what route to run and run it at the correct depth and the break, but does he make the catch? That is competing. I asked the players to evaluate themselves."

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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ECU

October 19, 2019

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October 19, 2019

East Carolina football plays at 7 p.m. at UCF on the CBS Sports Network. Check out the three questions you need to know (in words and video below) heading into the game:

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October 16, 2019

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October 15, 2019

Mike Houston said Monday that his ideal football kickoff time is 2 p.m. so he can spend some family time at night after getting home from a game, but he is preparing his East Carolina team again this week for a night kickoff.

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