2022 East Carolina Pirates Preview

by Matt Fargo

East Carolina Pirates

2021-22 Season Record 7-5 (5-3 AAC) - 7-4-1 ATS - 4-8-0 O/U

Returning Starters

Offense - 7
Defense - 8

Overview

East Carolina had a solid run under Skip Holtz and Ruffin McNeill from 2006 to 2014 with winning records in seven of those nine seasons and securing a bowl bid eight times. It was then a rough stretch for six straight years where the Pirates averaged 3.5 wins with the program stuck in neutral. Current head coach Mike Houston was involved in the last two of those campaigns but things got right last season as East Carolina went 7-5, securing just its second winning record in the AAC since joining the conference in 2014. The Pirates were invited to the Military Bowl to face Boston College but it was cancelled due to COVID and while they returned 10 starters on each side of the ball last year, all is not lost in 2022 as they bring back 15 starters and a returning production ranking of No. 44. This could be, and should be, the time East Carolina turns the corner now and going forward.

Offense

The Pirates finished No. 39 in the country in total offense and No. 56 in scoring offense, nearly reaching 30 ppg. The Pirates have seven starters back on offense including quarterback Holton Ahlers who had a decent season where he completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 3,126 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions but he needs to make better decisions and become a more efficient passer. He loses his top receiver but three players are back that accumulated at least 400 yards receiving so there should not be a falloff whatsoever. The running game was solid with Keaton Mitchell leading the way with 1,132 yards and nine touchdowns and backup Rahjai Harris racking up 579 yards and four scores. The offensive line brings back three players with starting experience and while they opened holes for the backs, they have to protect Ahlers as they allowed 37 sacks.

Defense

The defense had some really good games and some real clunkers as the Pirates allowed 20 points or less four times but gave up 31 or more points five times to finish No. 67 overall in scoring defense. They bring back a solid nucleus with eight returning starters and have a chance to take a big step forward. East Carolina is strong at the linebacker position with all three starters back but they need to develop a bigger pass rush as they were No. 69 in the nation in sacks but bring back a slew of players who got into the backfield on multiple occasions. The defensive line is versatile and with the exception of a few bad games, they did a good job at stopping the run, allowing 143 or fewer rushing yards in half of their games. The backfield was extremely young last season but most everyone with playing experience is back with the exception of safety Jaquan McMillian who led the team with five picks.

2022 Season Outlook

The Pirates were clutch last season with a slew of close victories, four by four points or less, but that is tough to maintain on a consistent basis. Making it to a bowl game was huge for the program and not being able to play in it will fuel the fire this season to get another shot at the postseason and the pieces are in place to do so. East Carolina opens the season with four straight home games and while the first is a doozy against NC State, it follows that up with contests against Old Dominion, Campbell and Navy with the former and latter having projected wins of 4.5. Three of the four most difficult AAC games are at home with the exception of a game at Cincinnati following a nonconference game at BYU. The O/U win total is set at 6.5 and we see five likely wins on the slate so if they can upset a couple big guns at home, the Pirates may actually play a bowl game this year. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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