Pirates look to extend win streak vs. UABPublished 6:33pm Friday, November 15, 2013
GREENVILLE — The Pirates march towards an East Division title continues today as they host Alabama-Birmingham in their final home game of the regular season.
Though East Carolina (7-2, 5-1) is a 28-point favorite over the struggling Blazers (2-7, 1-4), recent history says this one could be closer than expected.
The Pirates hold an 8-4 lifetime record over UAB and have won six straight versus the Blazers, but the last two contests have been decided by less than seven points each.
“Every time we’ve played them, here or there, it’s been a dogfight,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. “We know we’ll catch their best shot and we have to make sure we do what we have to do.”
The Pirates enter the matchup fresh off of a 58-24 drubbing of defending C-USA champions Tulsa to extend their winning streak to three and a victory today would give them their longest winning streak since 2009.
The Blazers come to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on the opposite end of the spectrum, having lost three straight, with their last one being a 56-14 beat down at the hands of Marshall.
East Carolina offense vs. UAB defense
The Pirates offense seems to gain steam and break records each week. Last Saturday the unit exploded for a season-high 58 points, as junior quarterback Shane Carden accounted for a school-record seven touchdowns, while junior wide receiver Justin Hardy became ECU’s all-time touchdown receptions leader with 23.
Carden completed 34 of his 50 pass attempts for 384 yards and five TD passes, while rushing for two scores.
Carden’s mobility was key versus Tulsa as he was able to extend plays that led to key third down conversions, while inside the red zone he has been a factor all year.
With his 10 catches for 99 yards, Hardy stepped into the 1,000-yard club for the second straight year, making him the first ECU wide out in the school’s history to do so, but it may not be too long before Isaiah Jones duplicates that feat.
The freshman receiver has been steadily improved each week and gave his best performance of the year last Saturday as he racked up 104 yards and two touchdowns.
The Pirates will look to continue their assault on single-season and career records versus a UAB defense that allows a C-USA-worst 490 yards per game.
The Blazers have been decent in pass defense, where they rank eighth in the league, but their 216 rushing yards allowed per game stands at 12th.
On paper the UAB D appears to be pushovers, but East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said that the unit can be tricky because of its diversity.
“They’re very multiple. They are one of the most multiple, if not the most multiple defenses that we will see all year,” Riley said. “They use a lot different fronts and different blitzes and they really change it up in the back end. They do a good job of trying to confuse you.”
East Carolina defense versus UAB offense
The Pirates defense knew stopping Tulsa’s do-it-all running back Trey Watts would be a challenge, but the unit rose to the occasion in the second half.
Watts still got his numbers, rushing for 120 yards and a score while catching four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown, but he was severely limited in the second half where he gained only 16 yards on the ground.
East Carolina’s run defense ranks seventh nationally, and will be put to the test again by a dangerous duo of Blazers backs.
Junior Darrin Reaves has racked up team-high 776 yards and eight touchdowns, while freshman sensation Jordan Howard was been equally stellar.
On the year, Howard is gaining 6.6 yards per attempt for 773 rushing yards. The rookie gashed Marshall for 123 yards last Saturday and his 96.6 yards per game is the tops amongst all freshmen.
“They have two really good running backs that are similar to the young man Watts that we saw last week,” defensive coordinator Rick Smith said. “They have a freshman that’s 230 pounds that runs the ball well and (Reaves) is about 205 pounds and is an extremely tough kid. He runs behind his pads and never stops his feet.”
Like the UAB defense, the offense is equally multiple.
“They change,” Smith said. “One week they threw 52 passes and the next week they threw 14.”
The Blazers are even multiple under center as they shift between sophomore quarterback Austin Brown (1,199 yards, 9 TDs) and senior passer Jonathan Perry (688 yards, 7 TDs).
Though it sounds challenging, McNeill said that preparing for two quarterbacks is not that strenuous.
“It’s not very hard because you work on the base thought-process of quarterback-designed runs and if it’s a straight drop-back passer as well, you have a package for that,” McNeill said. “The biggest thing that hurts you is in coverage when he can scramble and extend plays like Shane [Carden] does. In pass situations, we have to have great pass-lane integrity and be disciplined.”