Who’s up next?
Published 8:42 pm Tuesday, November 8, 2011
GREENVILLE — This Saturday the Pirates Air Raid offense will look to fly without one of its engines as senior wide receiver Lance Lewis will be sidelined for the second consecutive game with a foot injury.
Lewis, a preseason all-Conference USA selection, has racked up 60 receptions for 600 yards and eight touchdowns, all of which are team-highs, and has been East Carolina’s best deep ball and red zone threat this season.
Heading into Saturday’s clash with UTEP (4-5, 1-4) the Pirates (4-5, 3-2), who feature nine wideouts on their two-deep, are hoping to find strength in numbers as they cope with the loss of Lewis.
“It gives some other guys opportunities to step up,” ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “You saw some of that on Saturday (against Southern Miss). You saw Reese Wiggins step up, Dayon Arrington did some things that didn’t really show up in the box score and you saw some other guys step in there.
“We’ve had some tough things go against us so this group is getting used to it and getting better at handling adversity. … Last year had we lost a key guy I don’t know if we would have been equipped to handle it as well as some of the guys this year.”
Perhaps the place the Pirates will miss Lewis the most is in the red zone where his 6’3” frame and athleticism allowed him to out-jump opponents on fade routes.
While that card may be out of the deck this Saturday, Riley said his team still has plenty of ways to score inside the 20.
“I don’t think we will have one specific guy,” Riley said. “I think (Reese) Wiggins can definitely do some good things for us. I think our run game will have to pick up the slack there and I think Justin Hardy and (Andrew) Bodenheimer can be a good red zone threat. All of them can be good, it’s not like we just practice (the fade route) with Lance.”
Wiggins, a 5-11, 189-pound sophomore filled in for Lewis at the X receiver spot during the team’s 48-28 loss to Southern Miss on Saturday and turned a screen pass into a 72-yard score on the second play of the game. Wiggins finished the contest with four catches for 85 yards.
Hardy and fellow freshman Danny Webster have made consistent contributions to the passing game and are the team’s second and third leading receivers, respectively.
The 6-0, 180-pound Hardy is second on the team with 48 catches for 500 yards and four scores, while the 5-10, 188-pound Webster is right behind him with 46 receptions for 264 yards and one TD.
Davis said that when Webster is on the field opposing defenses take notice.
“He’s the Tasmanian Devil, he’s a crazy guy out there,” Davis said. “When we watch film you can see the other guys looking around the field to see where’s 33 because if you’re not looking for him he’ll get you.”
At 6-3, 204 pounds, junior Andrew Bodenheimer has the right frame to be a red zone target but has only caught two TD passes in his career. Bodenheimer, who has caught 33 passes for 396 yards, has not been the target of many back-of-the-end-zone jump balls during his time at ECU and Riley said that is because he excels at other routes.
“He’s just so good at other things, he’s good at that, but he’s just so phenomenal at slants and tough catches over the middle,” Riley said. “You try to feature guys and cater to their strengths.”
The Pirates will hope that their batch of receivers can also make up the difference for Lewis when it comes to throwing the long ball.
“I think again, it will be a little bit of everybody,” Riley said. “I think Wiggins can do it, I think (Joe) Womack can do it, I think Bodenheimer can do it and I think Mike Price and Justin Hardy can do it.”
Riley said his goal is to find what each player can do best and maximize it.
“Different guys are better at different routes and we will try to feature that,” Riley said. “They all have big play capability, some with style and some with speed and some with both. They all have different things they are good at and we will try to feature them at the routes that they are best at as much as possible.”