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The Opposition: Previewing UH’s matchup with East Carolina

UH football looks to stay perfect in AAC play on Saturday when the Cougars host ECU. | Courtesy of UH athletics

UH football looks to stay perfect in AAC play on Saturday when the Cougars host ECU. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Coming off a bye week, Houston football kicks off the second half of its season Saturday afternoon as the Cougars host East Carolina.

Here is everything you need to know about this American Athletic Conference showdown between the Cougars and Pirates:

Pirates offense

Everything starts in the backfield for an ECU offense, which averages 161.5 rushing yards per game.

The Pirates are led by the dynamic duo of Keaton Mitchell and Rahjai Harris, who have combined for 931 yards and six touchdowns on 153 carries through ECU’s first six games.

UH defensive coordinator Doug Belk knows his defense has its hands full in trying to contain the two Pirates’ running backs who Belk said can change the game in just a matter of a few seconds.

“The game breakers are in the backfield,” Belk said. “(Harris) has a lot of ability, runs physical, runs tough and can make you miss. He has explosive capability. And then (Mitchell), he’s got track speed and he’s the most explosive guy we’ve played up to this point.”

Slot receiver Tyler Snead is another big playmaker for the Pirates who Belk described as “explosive.”

Snead leads ECU in receptions, with 28, and receiving yards, with 362. Snead is also tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with two.

Leading the Pirates offense is veteran quarterback Holton Ahlers who has eclipsed 8,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in his collegiate career.

The lefty quarterback can hurt a defense both with his arm and his legs.

Pirates defense

Cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian has been a star for the ECU defense, leading the team with 37 tackles.

McMillian has been excellent in pass coverage for the Pirates, breaking up 12 passes and also coming up with four interceptions, including a pick-six, through ECU’s first six games.

The Pirates are loaded at depth at the safety position with Jireh Wilson, D.J. Ford, Shawn Dourseau, Juan Powell and Warren Saba who have combined for 110 tackles and four interceptions.

The Pirates also have depth at linebacker, led by Myles Berry, Bruce Bivens, Xavier Smith, Jeremy Lewis and Aaron Ramseur. These five linebackers have combined for 133 tackles and 4.5 sacks on the season.

How does UH match up with ECU?

On the defensive side of the ball, UH should have a massive advantage led by Sack Avenue, the Cougars’ defensive line group.

Pass protection has been a huge issue for ECU’s offensive line, giving up 21 sacks on the season. The Cougars are third in the nation in sacks per game and could have another big performance against a struggling ECU offensive line.

On the other side of the ball, the thing to watch will be UH’s No. 1 wide receiver Nathaniel Dell against one of the country’s top cornerbacks in McMillian.

Dell has been huge for UH on third downs, coming up with big reception after big reception but will have his biggest challenge yet with McMillian defending him.

UH quarterback Clayton Tune will likely need to look to get guys like Jeremy Singleton, KeSean Carter and Christian Trahan involved in the passing game early to open up the Pirates’ defense and create big play opportunities.

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