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East Carolina Pirates quarterback Holton Ahlers (12) throws a pass. (Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire)
December 24th, 2021
East Carolina will look to finish the season out strong when the Pirates take on the Boston College Eagles in Monday’s Military Bowl.
If you blink on Monday, you might miss an entire play for East Carolina’s offense. Quarterback Holton Ahlers has one of the shortest snap-to-throw ratios in college football, as well as one of the shortest depth-to-target ratios. He threw for over 3,100 yards this year on 256 completions, and less than one-third of his throws went 10 yards or more down the field.
.@ECUPiratesFB is averaging almost 40,000 fans per game, including 9,000 students. It’s been a long road back for a proud program, but the Pirates are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2014. How Mike Houston and Holton Ahlers turned things around: https://t.co/kCvVNQHraK— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) November 24, 2021
.@ECUPiratesFB is averaging almost 40,000 fans per game, including 9,000 students. It’s been a long road back for a proud program, but the Pirates are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2014. How Mike Houston and Holton Ahlers turned things around: https://t.co/kCvVNQHraK
East Carolina employed a quick-hitting passing attack to a 7-5 record, finishing third in the American Athletic Conference this season. They nearly had more wins, losing by just three to South Carolina, four at UCF, and losing by a touchdown in overtime at Houston. However, they ended the season on a sour note, falling 35-13 to Cincinnati to end a four-game winning streak.
The Pirates have one of the best third-down defenses in the nation, allowing conversions on just 32.7% of their opportunities. However, they do not have much size or strength up front, ranking near the bottom of the nation in tackles for loss or sacks. Their secondary mostly uses zone defense due to their lack of standout talent, so it’s difficult for them to stop solid run games, allowing the 85th-most rushing yards per game in the nation.
ECU ranks 12th in the nation in time of possession, helping to mitigate some of their defensive issues. They spread the ball around, with nine different players catching touchdowns this season, and running back Keaton Mitchell keeps defense honest with over 1,100 rushing yards and more than six yards per carry. That said, turnovers are a big problem, with Ahlers throwing 10 interceptions and the team fumbling 11 times.
After missing a large portion of the season with a hand injury, quarterback Phil Jurkovec returned in November and had mixed results. He threw for over 300 yards in the Eagles' win against Georgia Tech, but the ensuing two games saw him throw for just 167 yards combined—including a paltry 19 yards with just three completions in a 41-10 loss to Wake Forest.
This play was *wild*. Boston College QB Phil Jurkovec throws an interception, then runs down the field and eventually recovers a fumble after the defender loses the ball.An INT and FR on the same play. pic.twitter.com/TTsnY2FGm4— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 5, 2021
This play was *wild*. Boston College QB Phil Jurkovec throws an interception, then runs down the field and eventually recovers a fumble after the defender loses the ball.An INT and FR on the same play. pic.twitter.com/TTsnY2FGm4
The Eagles finished dead last in the ACC Atlantic with a 2-6 conference record, and their last two games saw them missing numerous players through illness and injury. They have had a chance to rest, and Jurkovec’s hand is now fully healed. He has already announced he will return for the 2022 campaign, and this gives him a chance to put a rough season behind him and build momentum towards next year. Without a healthy Jurkovec, the offense struggled. They scored more than 17 points in just two of their final eight games.
The Eagles have a stout pass defense, ranked fourth in the nation in average yards allowed, and their secondary is full of playmakers. While they have struggled against the run, ranked 95th in FBS at nearly 171 yards allowed per game, they only let one team throw for more than 255 yards this season. They also held their opponents under 30 points in nine of their 12 games.
Few teams needed the break before the bowl games more than Boston College. Tight end Trae Barry might return for the game, and the healthy Jurkovec makes this offense immensely better. He not only can rack up yardage, topping the 300 yard mark in six of his 16 career starts, he can also move the ball with his legs. That could be a huge advantage in this game, against an ECU defensive line that is very undersized and does not make many plays in the backfield.
Additionally, Ahlers tends to make mistakes when he faces man defense, which is predominantly what he will see from the Eagles. ECU’s quick passing game exploits zone coverage gaps, but the stout secondary of Boston College will look to go man coverage and force him to make better reads. The Eagles are 5-1 this season when they force multiple turnovers, something I expect we will see in this game.
For all the games that East Carolina "nearly won" this season, the fact is they didn’t win any of them. They have no marquee wins on their resume, and they also barely beat a 4-8 Navy team and a 6-6 Memphis team, winning those games by a combined four points late in the season. They also barely survived an FCS team, beating Charleston Southern by just three points.
Motivation is a huge factor in bowl games, and Jurkovec appears to have plenty of it. Given that, and the ability for their defense to take away ECU’s biggest strength, I like the Eagles to cover in this one. ECU simply does not have the weapons on defense to deal with the bigger, stronger players they will face, and the Eagles will want to end the season on a high note. Lay the points but buy the hook to protect yourself, and combine that with an ECU team total under for a decent Same Game Combo play.
Score prediction: Boston College 27, East Carolina 23
Our predictive engine is calling for Boston College to win outright.
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