East Carolina vs. Memphis College Football Odds & Picks: Pirates’ Veteran QB Gives Them Value
John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Holton Ahlers.
- Memphis (-4.5) is favored on Saturday against East Carolina.
- Seth Henigan has performed admirably as a true freshman for the Tigers, but Holton Ahlers is one of college football's most experienced QBs.
- Darin Gardner breaks down the matchup and delivers his betting pick below.
East Carolina vs. Memphis Odds
|East Carolina Odds|
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
While neither Memphis or East Carolina have had a particularly impressive season, both are riding high off of last week’s results.
Starting with the home team, Memphis pulled off a big upset with a narrow win over SMU, becoming one of only two teams so far to give the Mustangs a loss. On the other side, East Carolina enters coming off a 45-3 blowout over Temple and has now won comfortably in two straight conference games.
On the season, both teams enter with 5-4 records, with East Carolina’s 3-2 record putting it one game ahead of Memphis. Conference title hopes are done for both of these squads, but each side should reasonably expect to find its way to a bowl game at the end of the year.
Memphis has a lot to look forward to in the future with how quarterback Seth Henigan has performed as a true freshman, but will a strong East Carolina defense have something to say about that on Saturday?
East Carolina Offense
Coming into the year, East Carolina returned one of the most experienced quarterbacks in college football in Holton Ahlers, who is currently in his fourth year as the starter. He performed well in 2019 and ’20 for the most part, but his play has taken a small step back this season, considering his ’21 Pro Football Focus passing grade, big-time throw rate, and adjusted completion percentage are all three-year lows for Ahlers.
It’s not entirely his fault, though, as an offensive line that ranks 120th in PFF pass blocking grade definitely hasn’t made his job any easier.
Overall, Ahlers has led an East Carolina aerial attack that ranks 69th in passing success rate. It’s not exactly something to write home about, but it could definitely be worse. The same could be said for the ground game, which ranks 58th in expected points added (EPA) per carry. It’s had a moderate amount of success in both facets, but this has been an unspectacular offense overall.
East Carolina Defense
The Pirates defense is a different story. It’s been very solid, but especially good against the pass, where it ranks 18th in EPA per throw allowed.
At cornerback, Ja’quan McMillian leads the nation in PFF’s coverage grade and has racked up four interceptions and 15 pass breakups. He’s been a big contributor to East Carolina’s ranking of seventh in havoc rate. The pass rush hasn’t been great, but this secondary has been a major strength.
The run defense hasn’t been as good, but it’s still been solid enough, which has the Pirates sitting at 31st in overall EPA per play allowed on defense.
Henigan has been one of the few bright spots for Memphis in 2021. Although he’s struggled with accuracy, his 9.1 yards per attempt currently ranks 13th in the nation among quarterbacks.
In the passing game, Memphis has gotten a lot of volume out of two veterans: receiver Calvin Austin and tight end Sean Dykes.
Among all receivers, Austin is ranked in the top 10 in targets, receptions and receiving yards, and his 85.2 PFF receiving grade ranks second in the conference. Meanwhile, Dykes ranks sixth in the nation in receiving yards among tight ends, and his 16.6 yards per catch ranks fourth among tight ends with at least 25 targets.
The ground game has been lackluster for Memphis, with a ranking of 66th in EPA per carry. Running back Brandon Thomas got off to a ridiculous start to the season with 9.2 yards per carry against Nicholls State and 10.2 per carry against Arkansas State the week prior, but he has only topped five yards per carry once since then.
The Tigers’ defense hasn’t been great this season, ranking 78th in EPA per play allowed.
One area it hasn’t been able to get any production is the pass rush, where it ranks 105th in sack rate, and its leading sack leader on the year has just three. The best way to take advantage of this East Carolina offense is against its weak pass protection, but Memphis hasn’t shown much life in that department.
Memphis should be able to do a decent job against East Carolina’s ground game, ranking 67th in rushing success rate allowed. The Tigers did a great job there against SMU last week, allowing just 2.1 yards per carry, but they’ve also been gashed there a few times this season, namely against UCF and Tulsa.
East Carolina vs. Memphis Matchup Analysis
Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how East Carolina and Memphis match up statistically:
East Carolina Offense vs. Memphis Defense
|** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)|
Memphis Offense vs. East Carolina Defense
|** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)|
Pace of Play / Other
|SP+ Special Teams||40||91|
|Plays per Minute||64||11|
|Rush Rate||53.% (81)||50.% (97)|
Data via College Football Data, FootballOutsiders, SP+, PFF and SportSource Analytics.
East Carolina vs. Memphis Betting Pick
This line opened at Memphis -6 on Sunday, but that has since been pushed down to 4.5 in most spots as money has come in on the Pirates. Personally, I believe that move was well deserved and still has room to keep going, considering I project Memphis at just 2.7-point favorites.
The Tigers’ passing game has easily been the best unit on the team, but East Carolina’s secondary is very well-equipped to go head to head with it. Overall, these teams are very similar in quality, and I see a small amount of value on the Pirates catching 4.5 on the road.
Pick: East Carolina +4.5
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