Pirates look to carry momentum to Middle TennesseePublished 4:40pm Friday, October 4, 2013
GREENVILLE — East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill has been asked over and over again about his team’s 55-31 victory over North Carolina, but no sound byte could speak louder than the statement that was made by the offense’s play last Saturday inside Kenan Stadium.
Just two weeks prior, the unit failed its first big test of the year, falling 15-10 to the Virginia Tech at home. The normally explosive offensive flounder for a better part of four quarters, as quarterback Shane Carden went 19 for 31 for 158 yards and with one touchdown, while throwing his first three interceptions of the season.
The offensive line broke down, allowing the junior passer to get sacked seven times, while the ground game produced a mere 46 yards on 23 attempts.
There’s only two ways to respond to a game like that, and on Saturday the Pirates bounced back in the best way possible.
Carden was magnificent, accounting for six touchdowns to lead ECU to its first victory over Heels at their place since 1975.
“After a tough game like we had against Virginia Tech you have to be able to respond and I’m glad we did that. I’m proud of that,” said ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.
Carden threw for 376 yards and three TDs, while rushing for three more scores as the unit attacked consistently throughout the game, posting 14 points in each quarter, with the exception of the fourth where it scored 13.
The offensive line rebounded with a brick wall performance that kept Carden clean all afternoon and paved the way for senior running back Vintavious Cooper to rush for a career-high 186 yards.
It was a masterful effort all the way around as the Pirates totaled 101 plays, 603 yards of total offense, went 8-for-8 in the red zone and compiled a school-record 36 first downs.
“Everyone just played a little bit better. We didn’t play a lot better as a group, we didn’t have anybody that played a whole lot better than they did against Virginia Tech; everybody just did a little bit better,” Riley said. “We cleaned up a lot of stuff during the off week at all the positions. We had a solid week of practice and we took it to the game.”
The win propelled East Carolina to only its second 3-1 start in the last 10 years and it will look to build on its seismic victory today when it plays for the first time outside of the state of North Carolina against fellow Conference USA East member Middle Tennessee State (3-1, 1-0) at 3:30 p.m. in a game that will be televised on Fox Sport South.
While the matchup may not have the juice of an ECU-UNC contest, Riley assured his players will not be overconfident.
“We always humble them. Win, lose, play great, play terrible they’re going to be humbled when they come to practice,” Riley said. “You can see it on the film. We played good, but we can play so much better and that’s what we have to keep pushing toward.”
Though the win was a landmark one for the Pirates during the McNeill era, the fourth-year head coach has implored his team to not get too wrapped up in the hype surrounding it.
“The thing I’ve asked them to do – and this is what they have to learn to do and it’s hard because I can’t guard them 24 hours a day – is to drown out the noise. It can be a positive or a negative noise. If it’s outside the second floor, it’s bad noise. I tell them to focus in on what I tell them.”
Today’s game marks the first ever meeting between the Pirates and the Blue Raiders, and it’s an important one. Each team enters the matchup with matching 1-0 conference records and the winner of today’s game will find itself in sole possession of first place in the C-USA East Division.
Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide
It’s been a banner year for the Pirates run defense so far this season as the unit has allowed only one team (Florida Atlantic) to break the century mark throughout its first four games.
Despite losing ILB Jeremy Grove for the past two games, ECU currently ranks fifth in the nation against the run, yielding an average of 78.5 yards per contest after holding the Tar Heels to 67 yards and the Hokies to 53 the game before.
Under the direction of coach Rick Stockstill, the Blue Raiders run an offense with multiple looks, but will look to get it done on the ground behind it’s thunder and lightning combination of Jordan Parker (6-1, 221) and Reggie Whatley (5-7, 167).
Parker, a sophomore, has rushed for a team-high 480 yards and four touchdowns, while Whatley, who is averaging 7.1 yards per carry, has tallied 283 yards and three scores.
“They have a 220-pound tailback that will run slap over you and then they have a guy behind him that probably runs a 4.2 (40-yard dash). He’s had some long runs. If he gets beyond the line of scrimmage he can go,” ECU defensive coordinator Rick Smith said.
Another week, another talented QB
The Pirates have faced a bevy of talented quarterbacks this season, ranging from Taylor Heinicke, to Logan Thomas to Bryn Renner, and this week they will face another one in MTSU’s three-year starter Logan Kilgore.
The senior has completed 56 percent of his passes for 811 yards and five touchdowns and has drawn comparisons from the ECU staff to ODU’s Heinicke.
Kilgore’s primary target this season has been senior Tavarres Jefferson, who has 22 catches for 279 yards.
Carden, Kilgore’s counterpart, has completed 72 percent of his passes this season for 1,172 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Though he has spread the wealth around, Pirates WR Justin Hardy has been the main beneficiary with 32 receptions, which ranks ninth in the nation, for 324 yards.
Helping keep the heat off the ECU wideouts is Cooper, who is averaging 4.6 yards per carry for a total of 347.
The Blue Raiders will look to slow down the ECU attack with a 4-3 defense that has created 16 turnovers in five games and is highlighted by sophomore safety Kevin Byard (30 tackles, 2 INTs) and sophomore weakside linebacker T.T. Barber (team-high 59 tackles).