After taking their first conference loss of the season, the 1-4 East Carolina Pirates got a much-needed bye week last weekend. The struggling Pirates will resume action Thursday night at home, where they will play host to a 3-2 SMU team that is also coming off a bye week. We’ll preview the AAC Conference game before going over why I’ll be backing the road favorites.
Even in today’s transfer portal era, teams losing longtime starters at the quarterback position can have a terrible effect on an offense, which has been the case for East Carolina. With Holton Ahlers gone, the Pirates offense enters this week's matchup ranked 125th in the country with an average of 15.3 points per game.
With the longtime signal caller gone, the Pirates' offense has remained pass-heavy, with 53.43% of their plays being a pass play. The only problem with the heavy pass offense is the Pirates quarterbacks don’t seem to be able to handle that volume, as ECU is averaging just 165.5 passing yards per game. Starting quarterback Alex Flinn is fresh off a game against Rice in which he threw for 246 yards and an interception, giving him a 1:5 touchdown to interception ratio this season.
This struggle on offense has led the Pirates to rank 121st in offensive success rate, which could prove to be a real problem this week against an SMU defense that is 27th in defensive success rate and 38th in yards allowed per game. In their most recent win against Charlotte, the Mustangs held the 49ers to 16 points, which means they’ve held teams to an average of 23 points per game this season, which is impressive considering they have played both Oklahoma and TCU.
Defensive tackle Kori Roberson and defensive end Nelson Paul have been huge for the SMU defense, combining for nine tackles for loss and an interception. Offensively, the Mustangs are averaging 400.8 yards per game, but that has only translated to an average of 25 points per game. SMU can still be dangerous on that side of the ball, especially with quarterback Preston Stone leading the charge with 1,191 yards and 11 touchdowns.
With both teams coming off a bye week, SMU comes into the game as (-12.5) point road favorites, and I’ll be backing them for my play. Preston Stone threw for 135 yards and two touchdowns in SMU’s last game, and while it got the job done, he should really be able to put up an impressive stat line against an ECU defense that is 123rd in EPA on pass plays.
The Pirates allow an average of 8.2 yards per pass and 255.5 passing yards per game, which works out well for Stone and the SMU offense since they average 35.3 passing attempts per game. SMU is 61st in EPA per pass play, so they have a significant advantage through the air on Thursday night, but their true advantage is on defense.
SMU is 21st in defensive success rate on run plays and 48th for pass plays, which sets up a brutal matchup for the ECU offense that comes into this game 117th in offensive EPA. It’s hard to believe the Pirates' offense, which is 102nd and 118th in offensive success rate for rushing and passing, respectively, can keep pace with the Mustangs offense for all four quarters.
SMU Mustangs (-12.5)