Carden to start versus Southern MissPublished 7:52pm Monday, September 10, 2012
GREENVILLE — After two weeks of football it’s still hard to gauge exactly how good or bad this year’s East Carolina team is as it cruised past FCS power Appalachian State 35-13 before getting blown out by No. 9 South Carolina 48-10 on Saturday.
Week 3 should offer better insight on the 2012 edition of the Pirates as they begin Conference USA play against defending league champs Southern Miss on the road Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“We’re looking forward to getting into conference play a little bit,” ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “We’re looking forward to having a chance to continue our road travel and face a tough Southern Miss team and we are looking forward to the challenge.”
So far, McNeill’s biggest challenge of year has been deciding on who will be the starting quarterback.
After a lengthy preseason battle, junior Rio Johnson emerged victorious as he started against ASU and South Carolina. However, after throwing two first half interceptions against USC, Johnson got pulled at the start of the second half in favor of sophomore Shane Carden.
Johnson, who finished the game going 18-for-29 for 193 yards, reentered the game later in the third quarter and threw his third pick of contest, which was returned 33 yards for a score. Afer that, Johnson’s day was over.
On the year, Johnson has completed 46 of his 72 pass attempts for 435 yards while throwing four interceptions to two touchdowns.
Carden, who got picked off on his first drive against the Gamecocks in the third quarter, settled down to complete 12 of his 18 attempts for 140 yards and led the Pirates on their only touchdown-scoring drive of the game.
It was an effort that was good enough to earn him his first start of his career this Saturday against the Golden Eagles.
“I’ve always mentioned that I consider Shane a starter and would not hesitate rotating or putting him in. Unlike the last two years with Dominique (Davis), where the guys were not close,” McNeill said. “I felt very comfortable putting Shane in. … Shane came in and had a tough throw that first series but came back and did a good job.”
Defensively, the Pirates struggled mightily as the USC offense shredded ECU for 397 passing yards and threw for five TDs.
Heading into the game, it was expected that the Gamecocks would do most of their damage on the ground behind Heisman hopeful RB Marcus Lattimore and dual-threat QB Connor Shaw. However, Shaw, who sustained a shoulder injury in Week 1, never took a snap and backup QB Dylan Thompson came into the game slinging as he hit on 27 of his 31 pass attempts for 330 yards and three TDs.
As for Lattimore, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier didn’t have much need of his superstar back as he ran the ball 13 times for 40 yards.
McNeill said the bottom line is that his defense did not get enough pressure on the South Carolina QB.
“When you go into the game facing a Heisman kind of guy you want to stop the run and we did that, but, they were successful on the long balls,” McNeill said. “We have to have some kind of effect on the quarterback. The whole deal defensively is to stop the run and effect the quarterback. … And then on the back end you have to make plays.”
DIXON SIDELINED WITH KNEE INJURY
East Carolina junior defensive end Justin Dixon sustained an injury to his right knee against South Carolina and did not reenter the game. On Monday McNeill said Dixon, who suffered a season-ending injury to his left knee in the fourth game of the year against UNC in 2010, might be on the shelf for a while.
“He may be out for the year, but I hope not,” McNeill said. “That was a tough blow. He’s been playing well and practicing well. They gave him an MRI last night and if it’s the same thing he had against North Carolina two years ago he will be out for the year.”
WILLIAMS MAKES APPERANCE ON THE DEPTH CHART
The Pirates have moved 6-1, 327-pound nose guard Terry Williams up on the depth chart and he will battle 6-2, 252-pound redshirt freshman Terrell Stanley for the right to start Saturday versus USM.
The Pirates slated starting NG, preseason all-Conference USA selection Michael Brooks, sustained a knee injury versus Appalachian State and did not play against USC. Brooks is listed as “doubtful” for this weekend’s game, and as of Monday was third on the depth chart.
In July, Williams was suspended indefinitely from the team after a drug-related arrest.
Joining Dixon and Brooks on the injury report is CB Leonard Paulk, who is listed as “out” for this week’s game with a knee injury, as well as CB Jacobi Jenkins (leg) and CB Kristopher Sykes (knee), who are both listed as “questionable.”