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ECU-SMU: Three answers

E Carolina SMU Football

East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers attempts a pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game against SMU, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Dallas. SMU beat East Carolina 59-51. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, November 9, 2019

DALLAS — East Carolina competed for four quarters against a ranked team for the second straight week, yet a similar feeling and still winless this season in the American Athletic Conference after a 59-51 defeat to No. 23 SMU.

Here are three answers from the game:

1. How many passing yards by ECU QB Holton Ahlers? 498, giving him a two-week total of 1,033 in games against ranked teams (Cincinnati, SMU).  He passed for six touchdowns and no interceptions. The last two games were hard-fought losses for the Pirates, but Ahlers is thriving late in his sophomore season and building new confidence that he didn’t seem to have earlier in the year.

“We knew they had a couple good receivers and a good quarterback, but I think we do too,” said Ahlers, a Greenville native who now owns the Nos. 1 and 2 passing games in yards in school history and a record six passing touchdowns.

Important Saturday for Ahlers was 32 completions on 42 passes for a very good completion percentage. He was not intercepted, and sacked twice by an aggressive SMU defense that came in first in the nation in sacks per game.

“He feels comfortable in the offense,” Pirate coach Mike Houston said.

SMU veteran quarterback Shane Buechele also was prolific, finishing 33-for-46 with 414 yards, five TDs and an early INT.

2. Any impact plays on special teams? Special teams was not really a factor until it factored in a major way on a muffed kickoff by the Pirates that was very untimely. After SMU scored a touchdown on a fourth-and-20 play for a 52-44 lead with 7:25 left in the game, the ensuing kickoff was botched by Jsi Hatfield and Tyler Snead and recovered by SMU. The hosts then scored a crucial TD, taking a 59-44 edge a the 4:18 mark.

Houston was candid and supported those two players, about the special teams gaffe, during his postgame news conference. They are freshmen and the look on Houston’s face in describing them was plenty optimistic and excited about their futures. Both Hatfield and Snead (240 receiving yards, 3 TDs) were important on offense for ECU to keep up with the Mustangs.

It was otherwise an uneventful day on special teams. ECU kicker Jake Verity did provide another stellar outing of 3-for-3 on field goals. He passed Chris Johnson on ECU’s all-time scoring list.

SMU safety Trevor Denbow punted three times, all in the first half, and none of them returned by the Pirates. 

3. How many SMU sacks? Two. The Mustangs were able to get pressure on Ahlers early in the game, but ECU’s O-Line adjusted and thrived during the final three quarters. The Mustangs had three QB hurries. Center John Spellacy did not play, as Branden Pena was back at center and Matt Morgan started at right guard after spending most of the year at tackle. Freshman Noah Henderson was good again at RT.

Ahlers was calm and smart in reading the pocket. One of his touchdown passes, to Snead, featured him rolling to his right and then reversing back to his left and finding Snead in the end zone for a patient play by the QB.

ECU didn’t lose because of its offense, out-gaining the Mustangs 644-636.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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