ORLANDO, Fla. — East Carolina’s football team lost 41-28 at UCF on Saturday night in a game that began as all Knights, leading 21-0 and later 35-3 still in the first half, but the Pirates left the Sunshine State mainly encouraged about their second half comeback attempt. Here are three answers from the game:
1. Does the ECU defense force any turnovers? The Pirates had one, when Kendall Futrell forced a strip-sack during the third quarter and the loose ball was recovered by Alex Turner. Futrell simply used a speed outside rush to beat the offensive tackle and collapsed on quarterback Dillon Gabriel. It was a big moment for ECU, and another sign that Futrell has put it all together to flourish in his final collegiate season as one of the best defensive players in the American Athletic Conference. Technically not a turnover, but another huge play for the visitors, during the second half was Leroy Henley’s blocked punt.
The problem was the Pirates needed turnovers and big plays early in the game to build momentum, but they didn’t happen until UCF already built a big lead that proved to be insurmountable.
2. Do fans fill Spectrum Stadium? Not completely, as it was UCF’s lowest home attendance of the season (42,906) and the only one under 44,000. There was especially a lot of open seats after halftime for homecoming night, but UCF’s students did do a good job early in the game of making noise and boosting their Knights. A lot of students were in the stadium one hour before kickoff and thy were amped during the first quarter.
Still, there’s no doubt that stadium has been more packed and more loud on other nights.
3. Which running back do the Pirates focus on? This question mainly became void because of injuries. Speedy threat Adrian Killins took a jet sweep handoff for the Knights’ second offensive play and limped off the field after the tackle. No. 1 running back Greg McCrae also suffered a leg injury late in the first quarter and also did not return to the game.
The other UCF important back/slot receiver, Otis Anderson, hot a solid game (18 carries for 80 yards, two catches for 18), but it was No. 1 receiver Gabriel Davis who paved the way to victory for the Knights. At 6-foot-3 and 222 pounds and a confident and proven playmaker, Davis was a mismatch for ECU no mater if it was Colby Gore or another cornerback lined up against him.
With Killins and McCrae both on the sideline, ECU was able to simplify its defensive approach after halftime and get pressure on Gabriel.
“For whatever reason early we gave up some big balls, and those are the ones that really kill you,” Pirate coach Mike Houston said. “We narrowed down our focus (in the second half) and you kind of had to decide how you want to play them. We just decided that this is how we are going to play them, because they really put a lot of stress on you.”
UCF came into the game averaging 44.8 points per game.
Contact Ronnie Woodward at email@example.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.