Greenville, N.C. • The intersectional matchup the beleaguered BYU Cougars are hoping is the start to a new season kicks off in an unfamiliar place on the East Coast nearly 2,000 miles from Provo on Saturday night.
Will the contest pitting the worst offense in major college football against the worst defense be the cure for what ails the Cougars or just another reminder that this could be BYU’s worst team in almost five decades?
Tune in at 5 p.m. MDT to find out, as BYU’s 128th-ranked offense tests ECU’s 129th-ranked defense at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in a clash of 1-6 teams desperately seeking turnarounds to forgettable seasons.
A win “would mean the world to us,” BYU linebacker Butch Pau’u said.
A loss, meanwhile, would be the most embarrassing in a season filled with them. It not only would extend BYU’s losing skid to seven, it also pretty much would ensure the Cougars will miss a bowl game for the first time since 2004, Gary Crowton’s final season.
So the heat will be on in the Coastal Plains, an area known more for producing BMX riders and outstanding golf courses than high-level college football. It is now or never for BYU, which has played the 16th-most difficult schedule in the country up to now but will see its quality of competition drop off significantly from here on out.
“You might think it puts more pressure on us,” said BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum, whose balky left ankle is almost back to 100 percent. “But at the end of the day, we are just trying to get wins. That’s all we need. We just need to get in that win column and take it one day at a time and get that second win and then from there to the third.
“We are not going to worry about who, statistically speaking, matches up better or who has had a better year. We are just going to go in there and try to play our game so that we can come out with a victory. That’s all that matters to us.”
BYU AT EAST CAROLINA
At Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville, N.C.
Kickoff • 5 p.m. MDT
TV • CBS Sports Network
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143
Records • BYU 1-6, ECU 1-6
Series history • BYU leads, 1-0
Last meeting • BYU 45, ECU 38 (Oct. 10, 2015)
About the Cougars • Coach Kalani Sitake is 10-10 in his second season. … They are 1-6 for the first time since the 1968 season, when they dropped to 1-7 before getting a victory and finishing 2-8. … They have played the 16th most-difficult schedule in the country, according to USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin. … This is the first time they have played a football game in the state of North Carolina. … They are 128th out of 129 teams in total offense, averaging just 242.4 yards per game.
About the Pirates • Coach Scottie Montgomery is 4-15 in his second season. … They feature a multiple look on offense and a multiple 4-2-5 look on defense. … They have qualified for a bowl game 10 times since 2000, including three of the last five years. … They are celebrating homecoming and playing their final non-conference game of the season. Having only defeated fellow AAC member UConn, they are trying to avoid having their streak of 13 years with at least one non-conference win snapped.
The Cougars flew to North Carolina on Thursday in an effort to combat the two-hour time change, and Mangum and coach Kalani Sitake both described practices since last Saturday’s 35-10 loss at Mississippi State as being spirited, upbeat and positive.
“I feel like we have a good dynamic. We just need to put more production on the field,” said Sitake, whose career record stands at 10-10. “We have to keep working toward getting our identity developed [although] we are midseason. We need to have that happen. No excuses. We just have to do what we are good at and make sure it shows up on Saturday.”
Pau’u, who is playing with a fractured left hand, said time is running out.
“If we waste another game, I feel bad for the seniors and they won’t go to a bowl,” he said. “They have been to a bowl since they first got here. It is time, and the guys understand that, so we will step up this week.”
While the focus will be on how BYU’s bad offense fares against ECU’s bad defense, the Cougars could have their hands full with ECU’s offense. The Pirates are one of only four FBS teams with three receivers with at least 100 career catches: Davon Grayson (113), Quay Johnson (108) and Jimmy Williams (105).
“They can score some points, and they got some speed,” Sitake said. “You respect them and their ability with what they can do on the field. That’s how we have to approach it.
“I don’t look at records, but I look at personnel and talent and what I see on the field. They are in the same position we are, so someone is going to win on Saturday. It is whoever is going to make the most improvement this week and can establish what their strengths are on Saturday night. They are going to have the same issues we are, and we will see what happens.”