Pirates looking to take a turn on Easy StreetPublished 6:35pm Friday, October 11, 2013
GREENVILLE — The Pirates will drive into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome today with hopes that a win in the Big Easy can put them on Easy Street for a while.
With its 24-17 victory over Middle Tennessee State last week, East Carolina (4-1) upped its Conference USA record to 2-0 to capture sole possession of first place in the East Division, and a win today over Tulane (4-2, 2-0 C-USA) would put it in excellent position to stay there.
ECU’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff against the Green Wave marks the last of a three-game road stretch and presents perhaps the toughest conference matchup left on its schedule until its regular season finale on the road against Marshall (3-2, 1-0).
Upon conclusion of today’s game, ECU will return home to play a Southern Miss (0-5, 0-1) team that hasn’t won a game in over a year, followed by matchups with FIU (1-4, 1-0), Tulsa (1-4, 0-1) and UAB (1-4, 0-1).
With the way the Pirates have been playing there’s no reason to think they can’t come out of that stretch with their perfect C-USA record still intact.
Of course, in order for that to happen ECU must find a way to get past a pesky Tulane team that boasts an opportunistic defense, a stud running back, a fearsome wide receiver and a quarterback that has NFL greatness flowing through his blood.
Last week, the Green Wave, who is tied with Rice (3-2, 2-0) for the C-USA West lead, staved off a feisty North Texas squad as star kicker Cairo Santos drilled a 27-yarder as time ran out in the fourth quarter to lift Tulane to a 24-21 victory.
ECU offense vs. Tulane defense
With the help of eight starters returning on the defensive side of the ball, Tulane leads the league with 18 takeaways and is third in scoring defense, surrendering 25 points per game.
The Green Wave is expected to play a nickel defense for a majority of the contest and is led by sophomore free safety Darion Monroe and senior nickel back Sam Scofield, who each have 35 tackles.
Cornerback Lorenzo Doss has been a thief all season long, racking up four interceptions to lead all of Conference USA.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the Pirates offense is Tulane’s tackle tandem of Chris Davenport (6-4, 334) and Julius Warmsley (6-2, 269), who have combined for 25 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
“They’re a very good defensive football team. I certainly think that’s the strength of their team,” ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “I think their two defensive tackles – with one being a transfer (Davenport) – has really improved their defense. They’re better against the run and they have some guys who can flat-out cover.”
The Pirates will counter behind an offense that has received near flawless play from the QB position, as junior Shane Carden has completed a mind-blowing 73 percent of his passes so far this year.
That laser-like accuracy has allowed Carden to lead C-USA in passing yards (1,537) and touchdowns (12).
The offense sustained a big hit last week as leading rusher Vintavious Cooper (372 yards) was sidelined in the first quarter against MTSU after enduring a concussion and is listed as doubtful for today.
ECU will also be without No. 2 back Corey Hunter, who is out for the year with a knee injury. The Pirates will look to last week’s surprise star Chris Hairston, who rushed for 94 yards against the Blue Raiders, to fill the void again.
With the absence of Cooper and Hunter the Pirates are down to Hairston and JUCO transfer Breon Allen as the only real rushing threats left on the roster. Should one of them go down, expect fullback Zico Pasut to take on the primary ball carrier role or possibly an appearance from freshman Marquez Grayson.
Once again, ECU must adapt to the loss of some key wide receivers as it was announced on Tuesday that Danny Webster (18-144) and Quataye Smyre (3-19) have been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules.
The loss of Webster and Smyre, adds to a long list of ECU WRs that are not on the roster for a variety of reasons. However, the Pirates have managed to maintain thanks to the stellar play of standout junior Justin Hardy (40-409), along with rising talents such as freshmen Davon Grayson (17-168) and Isaiah Jones (11-90).
Tulane offense vs. ECU defense
The Green Wave has a healthy mix of weapons on offense led by senior tailback Orleans Darkwa (347 yards), senior wide receiver Ryan Grant (40-521) and junior quarterback Nick Montana (1,116 yards 10 TDs), son of NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana.
As has been the case all season, ECU will look to shut down the run first and force Montana and Grant to beat them through the air.
So far that game plan has been an effective one as the Pirates are ranked fifth in the nation in run defense (80.6) and are second in the league in scoring defense (22.8).
“Stopping the run is our primary objective,” ECU defensive coordinator Rick Smith said. “We want to stop the run and not give up the long ball in the passing game.”
Darkwa enters today’s game fifth on Tulane’s all-time rushing and TD list with 2,437 yards and 33 scores, and at 6-0, 210 pounds is tough load to bring down.
“He runs behinds his pads and he’ll run over you,” Smith said. “He doesn’t try to make you miss. He’s slasher and he gets the extra yards. … I think he’s really good back and probably has a chance to play on Sundays.”
The Pirates defense will get a big boost today as three-year starting ILB Jeremy Grove is expected to get back into the mix after missing the last three games with a chest injury.
Fellow ILB Kyle Tudor, who has been working his way back from a shoulder injury, will be back in the starting lineup and will be paired with Zeek Bigger, who with 29 tackles, has excelled as a stand in for Grove.