These three questions were asked in previewing East Carolina’s football game at South Florida. The Pirates led for almost the entire night Saturday and finished with a 44-24 victory to even their American Athletic Conference record at 1-1 heading into a home game against Navy. ECU is 1-2 overall.
Here are the answers from ECU-USF:
1. Who is USF’s starting QB?
Jordan McCloud opened as the USF quarterback, and the only other to play for the Bulls was Noah Johnson, who took over the offense with the Pirates in complete control during the fourth quarter. Johnson ran in a touchdown with 31 seconds remaining to create the final score.
The Pirate defense put consistent pressure on McCloud, sacking him five times, and USF did not have a passing touchdown. Outside linebacker Jireh Wilson had two sacks. ECU also forced two turnovers without committing a giveaway.
The previous starting QB for USF (1-3, 0-2 AAC), freshman Katravis Marsh, was one of the six players unavailable against the Pirates.
2. What is the longest play?
Receiver C.J. Johnson was in the slot and took advantage of man-to-man press coverage on a third-and-7 play in the opening quarter, bursting by USF’s best cornerback, senior KJ Sails, at the line of scrimmage and roaming down the field to catch a high-arching pass from Holton Ahlers. Johnson was wide open and he easily ran the rest of the way for a 75-yard touchdown and 17-7 Pirate lead during the final minute of the first quarter.
ECU’s longest play of the season coming into the night was a 37-yard TD pass from Ahlers to Johnson late in a 51-28 loss to UCF on Sept. 26. This touchdown to Johnson was way more significant to the game’s outcome.
“It was a five-man protection and they sent six, so I knew I had to sit in there and get it off and he was going to be open,” Ahlers said. “I got hit and was watching from the ground on an angle. The linemen were running and telling me to get up and I just kept watching him run and score. The linemen were so focused on helping me up that I don’t even know if they saw the rest of the play.
“Plays like that, man, is what makes football special. It makes the game special.”
Offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick said during the week the Pirates wanted to move Johnson around within formations. He had three catches for 99 yards and two TDs. The use of him in the slot especially paid off on the long touchdown.
Darius Pinnix, who did not start at running back, occasionally added wrinkles in an H-Back type of pass protection role at the line of scrimmage. Freshman Rahjai Harris was ECU’s leading rusher (19 carries, 115 yards 2 TDs) and was effective as a workhorse, but Pinnix also had a 2-yard touchdown reception as part of the Pirates’ run of scores in the first half to reverse a 7-3 deficit into a 24-7 lead.
“We’ve been working on that package, because Darius does catch the ball very well out of the backfield and obviously he’s a big strong kid who can hold up in the run game blocking and hold up in pass protection,” Pirate coach Mike Houston said. “He has so much versatility and he’s really embraced that role of helping the team any way he can.”
3. Any lopsided quarters?
The Pirates’ 17-7 advantage in the first quarter set the tone. It also was important because USF’s opening drive was an authoritative march down the field for a 7-3 edge, but ECU quickly regained the lead and never looked back.
Freshman starting running back Keaton Mitchell helped ECU, which had 50 yards on 26 carries the last game in a 49-29 loss at Georgia State, establish the run in the opening minutes before Harris shined with yards after contact and also solid speed bursts. Harris had 77 yards and both of his touchdowns in the first half, including a smooth 42-yard sprint down the sideline to the end zone for a 24-7 lead.
“The big focus of the week was we had to run the ball better, and we really wanted to get the ball to C.J.,” Houston said. “I just really liked the way the running backs ran with authority.”
East Carolina owned a 210-92 advantage in rush yards. Mitchell ran 15 times for 42 yards.
The Pirates led 31-17 at halftime, which already was two points more than their season-high for points scored in a game.