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Both teams head into Saturday’s matchup looking for answers
This marks Charlotte’s first meeting with East Carolina (2pm ET on ESPN+ on Saturday), though the programs have a bit of history away from the gridiron. This is something that could turn into a rivalry game for our football programs, as Charlotte and ECU are obvious pairings in the AAC to meet every season. Biff Poggi commented when asked if this is an in-state rivalry; “I don’t know, is it a rival? I know it’s an in-state school. I hope it will become a rival, but they are a really good program. Mike Houston has done a great job there, in his fifth year. And for it to be a rival, both teams need to be somewhat competitive. I hope we can be that on Saturday. I hope it turns into a rival. I wouldn’t call it that quite yet.” Biff’s right, if the teams continue to share a conference, I think it’ll become one organically.
While the game hasn’t been played, there’s been plenty of banter about what the rivalry game (again, it’s not one yet) might be called, with The Booty Bowl seemingly the fan favorite. While “booty” leans more to the Pirates, the gold aspect of it fits both programs. I’m not opposed to “Battle for the Golden Nugget”, or something similar as well. What say you, Niner Nation?
Charlotte enters at 1-5 (0-2) with their only win versus FCS opponent, SC State. ECU shares the same resume, with their FCS win coming against Gardner-Webb. Both teams have offensive issues, CLT is averaging 13.4 points per game vs FBS opponents, while ECU is at 14.2. Give the issues both teams have on this side, I’m surprised the O/U for this one is currently at 40.5, with Vegas favoring the Pirates by 6.5 at this moment.
What I’ll be looking for from Charlotte
Honestly, this section is pretty redundant 6 games into the season, so I’m not going to bore you with wordy explanations. We’ve all seen it, Charlotte has to improve on offense, especially on third down and not turning it over. The defense, giving up almost 10 full points a game less than last year’s team (in FBS games), is noticeably better, but still yields too many explosive plays.
Let’s talk about a few players I’ll be watching instead. On defense, Prince Bemah (expected back after missing Navy) & Nikhai Hill-Green, Charlotte will need a strong showing due to ECU’s ground game, Rahjai Harris and Mason Garcia (when he’s in at QB) both pose big play ability with their legs. For the improvements Charlotte has seen on defense, they’ll need to find a way to create more turnovers to help kickstart the fledgling offense.
On the offensive side, will it again be the Trexler Ivey show? It had a rough debut versus Navy. Do we see more Jalon Jones at wide receiver? Micah Bowens, a transfer QB from Oklahoma by way of Penn State was mentioned in the Navy post-game presser. He’s been the scout team QB thus far, and Biff mentioned it wouldn’t be fair to him if they threw him into the fire versus the Midshipmen. Make no mistake, they aren’t going to tip their hand on their plan here, but it’ll be interesting to see how this position and the snaps unfold in Greenville. While ECU’s defense has been their strong suit, they have only accounted for 5 sacks. Charlotte’s OL will need to job, perhaps better than average, to allow Charlotte’s wide receivers the time to create separation. The Niners could really use Jack Hestera back for this one, but his status was not discussed during the weekly press conference.
It’s hard to call games must win at this point when both are 1-5, and a bowl game is highly unlikely for either team. Both teams leveraged the portal, but as of now, the results show missed evaluations on the offensive side of the ball. That’s where the similarities stop, Biff Poggi is in year 1 of a rebuild, though he clearly expected a better start at Charlotte. He’s searching for answers and is candid with the media.
On the other sideline, Mike Houston’s in year 5 at ECU, and staring at what might be his worst campaign after back-to-back bowl appearances. A loss to Charlotte might really turn the tides on his ship, which Charlotte fans would get a little extra joy from giving this history here. The fans in Greenville are seemingly restless given how the season has unfolded, and with how Houston handles things with the media. It’s worth nothing that Mike Houston’s buyout drops to $1.75 million after December 1 this year (source).
Given how the seasons have unfolded for both teams, it’s really hard to get a feel for how this game will go, but I’d take the under. Action tells me that the last 3 games for both teams have hit the under.