GREENVILLE, N.C. – Dominique Davis threw three touchdown passes and ran for two scores to help East Carolina beat Memphis 49-27 on Saturday.
Derek Blacknall returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown in a dominating first quarter for the Pirates (2-0, 2-0 Conference USA), who are off to a fast start under new coach Ruffin McNeill. East Carolina has won its first two games for only the second time this decade and travels to No. 13 Virginia Tech next weekend.
Jon Williams ran for 109 yards and scored for the Pirates, who scored 51 points in their opener and have already as many 40-point games this season as they did during last year's run to a second straight league title.
The Tigers (0-2, 0-1) never came close to making this a game, committing three turnovers that led to touchdowns as they fell behind 28-3 in the opening period.
Memphis had a terrible start to Larry Porter's coaching tenure last week, giving up 569 total yards and committing eight penalties in the 49-7 loss at Mississippi State. The best thing they could claim from this game is they didn't let the final margin look a whole lot worse.
As for McNeill, the former East Carolina defensive back didn't have much to complain about early. The only problem was the way the Pirates slowed down after building that big lead.
Davis turned in another solid performance while directing the no-huddle spread offense McNeill and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley brought with them from Texas Tech. After throwing for 383 yards and the last-play touchdown to beat Tulsa, Davis connected with Giavanni Ruffin and Dwayne Harris for first-quarter scores and completed 13 of his first 14 passes.
But perhaps more importantly, a defense with only two returning starters showed improvement after giving up 49 points last week. First it recovered a botched snap deep in Memphis territory to set up Davis' first TD pass, then Blacknall grabbed a badly overthrown pass from Cannon Smith over the middle and raced to the end zone for a 14-0 lead just 5½ minutes in.
East Carolina also recovered a fumble on a handoff between Smith and Jerrell Rhodes to set up Williams' 2-yard run for the 28-3 lead.
Even when things went well for Memphis, it didn't last. Backup quarterback Ryan Williams replaced Cannon for the second quarter and threw a 32-yard touchdown pass, only to see Paulo Henriques kick the ball out of bounds and give the Pirates the ball at the 35. Then came a late-hit penalty, followed by Jon Williams dragging several Memphis tacklers about 5 yards on a carry for a first down before Davis scored on a 1-yard keeper to make it 35-10 with 11 minutes left in the half.
Memphis never got within two possessions the rest of the game.