Air Raid offense prepares for takeoff|Pirates looking to rack up points in season premier

Published 1:54 pm Thursday, September 2, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — The Pirates’ Air Raid offense will take off for the first time on Sunday, and while it’s still not known who the pilot will be yet, the anticipation for East Carolina’s season opener builds with each day.
Pirates’ first-year offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said his team has been steadily progressing with each practice.
“They are never (where you want them to be), but I think we are starting to understand what we want to do,” Riley said. “We have gotten so used to practicing against our defense that we have to learn how to practice against our scout team. We’re just trying to beat the mentality into their heads that no matter who lines up against us we just got to play our game.”
The bad news for East Carolina is that it returns only four offensive starters from last year’s Conference USA championship team, the good news is that one of those four players is Dwayne Harris.
Harris heads into his senior season as the Pirates’ all-time leader in receptions with 176, and second on the career list in receiving yards with 1,878. With a good day on Sunday against Tulsa, Harris could be on top of that list as he needs only 105 yards to pass Troy Smith.
Harris is the leader of an ECU receiving corps that is filled with potential playmakers. On Sunday, the Pirates will start Lance Lewis, who at 6-3 brings height and athleticism, along with the speedy Michael Bowman (5-8), and Joe Womack who stands at 6-1. Behind that group is 6-foot-8-inch star freshman Justin Jones, along with Torrance Hunt, Mike Price and Jeremy Davis.
Riley, who is the youngest coordinator in the entire FBS, said that he feels confident in his playmakers.
“I think we’ll make some big plays,” Riley said. “I think we have enough talent that we are going to have some big plays in the game. I think the thing we have to improve upon the most is routine plays. We don’t want to score every other drive, we want to score every drive.”
That could be a bit of a challenge come Sunday. After rough season a year ago in which it finished 5-7 (3-5), Tulsa head coach Todd Graham, who made his career on the defensive side of the ball, lightened his load on offense to rededicate himself and the team to defense.
The Golden Hurricane defense brings back five starters from a year ago, but start only three seniors.
“They fly around and are very active,” Riley said of the Tulsa unit. “I don’t think they had the year they wanted to last year, so I think they will be rallying around that point. They give you some different looks with their 3-3-5 and really move a lot of guys around. They have some talented kids, and they are good enough that if you don’t play well they won’t support you; you’re going to have to execute.”
Riley said the key to success on Sunday will be the play of the offensive line, which brings back left tackle Willie Smith, guards Corey Dowless and D.J. Scott along with center Will Towery and freshman right tackle Grant Harner.
“I think we have to play well up front,” Riley said. “I think if we can dominate their guys up front then you always have a chance no matter what offense you run.”