Pirates turn eyes to FAUPublished 5:39pm Monday, September 2, 2013
GREENVILLE — The Pirates won’t have long to bask in the joy of their season opening 52-38 win over Old Dominion as they must turnaround and face Florida Atlantic University Thursday night in their Conference USA opener at 7:30 p.m.
However, on Monday East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill took some time to reflect on the game against the Monarchs and was pleased with what he saw.
“It was great to win the football game on Saturday,” McNeill said. “Wins are hard. I’ve spent 28 years in the college (coaching) business and 33 years (coaching) overall and we appreciate all wins. … I was very excited to win the football game in the fashion we did.
“… What you can’t really tell from the press box is the team chemistry that’s so evident among us. One unit is on the field and the other units are supporting that group. When the defense was on the field (WR) Danny Webster was right beside me and had his helmet buckled and mouth piece in ready to go.”
Despite the short week, ECU should be well prepared to face newly anointed Conference USA members Florida Atlantic, who is coming off a 34-6 loss to Miami, as McNeill snuck in preparation for the Owls during the preseason.
“We started exposing our team to FAU during fall camp to break up monotony,” McNeill said. “You can’t stay on one team too long because it becomes stale to the team. I thought we did a good job of spacing ODU, then going to FAU and then coming back to ODU during fall camp.”
Pirates junior quarterback Shane Carden bested his own school record for passing yards in a game on Saturday as he shredded the ODU defense for 447 yards for five TDs and no interceptions.
McNeill said that perhaps the most impressive aspect of his performance was that he was able to get the ball into the hands of 10 different receivers.
“I thought he did a good job of distributing the football,” McNeill said. “Early in the scheme (QBs) tend to look at one side or look for one guy. Justin (Hardy) caught 16 (passes), but if you notice (Shane) distributed the ball among a lot of guys.”
The performance enabled Carden to be named Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week for the fourth time in his career.
Run game off to a slow start
While the East Carolina pass offense was dominant, the running game lacked against the FCS Monarchs as ECU tallied a mere 34 yards on 22 attempts for a 1.5 yards per average, which takes into account its two sacks for -13 yards.
Vintavious Cooper rushed 12 times for 38 yards to lead the Pirates, while Cory Hunter’s seven yards on two attempts was second.
Despite the low totals McNeill said he was pleased with the rushing attack.
“I thought we did some positive things in the run game,” McNeill said. “They ran hard. … If you watched the film you saw ’Tay and Cory get extra yards with great pad level and by being your own blocker. I was proud of that an the way they ran the ball.”
Pass rush a work in progress
Under first-year defensive coordinator Rick Smith, the Pirates pass rush was supposed to be much improved, but on Saturday it was inconsistent as ECU failed to record a first-half sack and finished with two total.
The rush improved as the game went on, as ECU was able to strip-sack ODU QB Taylor Heinicke, which resulted in a touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter.
McNeill said that Heinicke’s mobility played a factor in how they defended the signal-caller.
“We kept adding a guy to the rush, but we were trying to make sure we defended Taylor a little bit. We had some spy guys in place for him,” McNeill said. “When you watch film there is always some things you can learn from it that we want to keep applying.”
The Pirates came away from their season opener relatively unscathed and head into Thursday’s contest with only one player, DB Terrell Richardson (knee), listed as out. Defensive end Jeton Beavers (leg) is listed as “questionable.”