ECU - Houston Preview

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) -- Van Eskridge believes in East Carolina coach Skip Holtz's so-called "24-hour rule." The goal is to savor a win or dwell on a loss the same amount of time, then move on.

The No. 23 Pirates are about to get their biggest test yet of that philosophy tomorrow as they host the pass-happy Houston Cougars.

One week ago, the Pirates (3-1, 1-0 Conference USA) were one of the biggest stories of the college football season after upsets of Virginia Tech and West Virginia. Since then, an overtime loss to instate rival North Carolina State has killed all crash-the-BCS talk. Now, East Carolina must refocus on the goal of winning a Conference USA title.

Last year, East Carolina won 37-35 in Houston when the Cougars missed field goals on their final two fourth-quarter drives.

Now, Houston (1-3, 0-0) finds itself in a similar situation as East Carolina in at least one respect: the Cougars are trying to start anew as they enter the bulk of the league schedule. The Cougars have lost to Air Force and Colorado State in the past two games by three points each time. In both games, Houston trailed by a double-digit margin at halftime and failed to rally.

Houston (1-3, 0-0) at No. 23 East Carolina (3-1, 1-0), 3:30 p.m. (CBS College Sports) Line: East Carolina by 10 1/2 Series record: East Carolina leads 5-3. Last meeting: 2007, East Carolina 37-35.

What's at stake

East Carolina's BCS hopes are busted, but the Pirates can't afford to let the disappointment from its overtime loss at rival N.C. State carry over into Conference USA play against a Houston team that is looking for its first Bowl Subdivision victory under new coach Kevin Sumlin.

Key Matchup

Houston QB Case Keenum vs. East Carolina's secondary. The FBS leader in total offense could lead the Cougars to an upset if he can take advantage of the Pirates defensive backfield, which allowed three touchdown throws and 257 yards passing last week at North Carolina State.

Players to watch

Houston: TE Mark Haffner. Keenum's favorite target is averaging 71/2 catches, and has at least seven receptions and a touchdown in each game this season.

East Carolina: Pick a running back. The Pirates' three-man rotation of Jon Williams, Brandon Simmons and Norman Whitley will look to get going against Conference USA's worst defense against the run.

Facts & Figures

Cougars are playing a ranked team for the first time since losing to No. 4 Miami in 2004, and haven't beaten a ranked team since knocking off Cincinnati in 1997.

The home team hasn't won in this series since East Carolina's 62-20 victory in Greenville in 2000.

The Pirates are playing a home game as a ranked team for the first time since 1999.

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