Pirates to take on FAU in conference openerPublished 9:21pm Wednesday, September 4, 2013
GREENVILLE — The Pirates will unveil their new alternate uniforms in tonight’s Conference USA opener against Florida Atlantic, but are hoping their passing game looks a lot like last week’s.
Junior quarterback Shane Carden was magnificent in the season opener, throwing for a school record 447 yards and five touchdowns to lead East Carolina to a 52-38 victory over the Monarchs to be named the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week for the fourth time in his young career.
Fellow junior Justin Hardy equaled his school record for receptions with 16 and racked up a career-high 191 yards, while nine other players caught at least one pass.
However, with the Pirates (1-0) having to return to action tonight to take on the Owls (0-1), Carden and Co. didn’t have too long to celebrate their win over ODU.
“It’s a quick turn around,” Carden said. “It’s usually the 24-hour rule but this week it’s more like the 12-hour rule. We celebrated a little bit but we got into FAU pretty quick.”
Florida Atlantic went 3-9 in the Sun Belt Conference last season and heads into its first Conference USA clash tonight at 7:30 p.m. (the game will broadcast on Fox Sports1) as 20-point underdogs.
The Week 2 conference contest will offer the winner a chance to get a leg up on the competition.
“I think we’re one of the first teams to play a Conference USA game, if I’m not mistaken. So it’s big,” ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said. “It’s big for (FAU coach) Carl (Pelini) and his team and it’s big for us.”
Spreading the wealth
Hardy’s 16-grab game dominated headlines, but East Carolina had several big time performances from many receivers last Saturday. Electric junior Danny Webster caught eight passes for 79 yards and a touchdown, senior Reese Wiggins hauled in seven passes for 48 yards and freshman Davon Grayson had four receptions for 28 yards and three touchdowns in his first ever college game.
The bevvy of talented receivers not only allows ECU to strike all over the field, but keeps opposing defenses from focusing in solely on Hardy.
“If teams are going to double coverage (Hardy) we have a lot of great athletes as everyone saw Saturday night,” Carden said. “I don’t think teams will be able to afford to double him because if you double him you’re going to leave someone wide open. I feel sorry for defenses. There’s a lot of good athletes out there.”
That receiving corps will face a FAU secondary that drew praise for ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and is led by six-foot senior CB Keith Reaser, who has 28 starts under his belt and runs a 4.3-second 40.
Defense looks to rebound
The Pirates defense had their ups and downs in their debut under first-year defensive coordinator Rick Smith as they allowed ODU to go 5-5 in the red zone and surrendered 460 yards of total offense. However, they got just enough stops to earn the win and managed to score a key touchdown when Ty Holmes recovered a fumble and bolted 26 yards to the end zone to start the second half.
“We won the game, which is our ultimate goal. Did we achieve some other goals? No,” Smith said. “We were not very good on third down in the first half. I would like for us to not have dumb penalties. We had two 15-yard penalties on third down stops that kept drives alive. … Those two penalties cost us touchdowns.
“The defensive line has to do a better job of staying in their pass lanes. We have to have two guys up the field outside of the quarterback and we have to have two guys on the inside on the outside shoulders of the quarterback. We didn’t get any of that.
“… (The pass rush) was very erratic the first half. We couldn’t get guys in their pass rush lanes. We were just running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off.”
The Pirates defense was led by safety Damon Magazu, who had 11 tackles, while Derrell Johnson and Gabe Woullard each had a sack.
Don’t sleep on Owls run game
After facing a pass-heavy Monarchs team led by scrambling quarterback Taylor Heinicke, the ECU defense must now face a FAU team that will feature designed runs for sophomore QB Jaquez Johnson and freshman passer Greg Hankerson, both of which are expected to see time behind center tonight.
Against Miami, Johnson, who is the expected starter, went 11-20 for 83 yards and was sacked four times, while Hankerson completed five of his 11 attempts for 34 yards.
Teaming up with the QBs in the run game will be senior tailback Jonathan Wallace, who led the Owls with 673 rushing yards last season and gained 34 yards against the Hurricanes.
“I think they are going to run the football. … They are going to run quarterback power, tailback power, quarterback sweep and quarterback draw. They’re going to test us with the quarterback runs.”
When the Owls do to go the air, expect whoever is playing QB to look for talented wideout William Dukes. The 6-4 junior led FAU with 979 yards on 63 receptions last season and caught two passes for 23 yards versus Miami.