Full speed ahead

Published 7:29 pm Monday, October 1, 2012

East Carolina WR Justin Hardy (2) caught 11 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown during the team’s 28-18 win over UTEP on Saturday. Hardy and the Pirates will look to keep their momentum going on Thursday when they take on Central Florida. (ECU Photo/Rob Goldberg)

GREENVILLE — With Central Florida looming on Thursday, the Pirates didn’t have long to celebrate their soggy 28-18 Saturday night victory over UTEP as East Carolina jumped into preparation for its key Conference USA clash in Orlando the very next day.
“We moved past UTEP (Sunday night) by diving right into UCF,” East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill said. “Most of the time on Sunday’s we don’t install as much, but last night because of the short week we had to install more and the kids handle it well.”
With it’s win over the Miners, the Pirates (3-2, 2-0) propelled to the top of the Conference USA East Division standings and can take a foothold on it with a win over a Knights team that will be playing their conference opener and is expected to be one of ECU’s biggest challengers for the East crown.
Having already topped defending league champs Southern Miss, Thursday night’s game has major conference implications for the Pirates.
“(A win) would be fantastic for us,” McNeill said. “We know we have a challenge in UCF, they’ve been tested.”
Central Florida has played some tough competition this year as it fell 31-16 to then-ranked No. 14 Ohio State, and on Saturday held a 10-7 lead at halftime against Missouri before falling 21-16.
Playing for a C-USA title was something Central Florida was not sure it would be able to do after initially getting hit with a one-year postseason ban for providing recruits with extra benefits. However, the Knights have appealed the NCAA’s ruling and have been deemed eligible to play in the postseason while the appeal process is taking place.

After suffering seven sacks at the hands of North Carolina in ECU’s 27-6 Week 4 loss, Pirates’ QB Shane Carden went sack-free on Saturday as the sophomore signal-caller did a much better job of getting rid of the ball faster while the offensive line kept the UTEP defense out of his face.
In just his third start of his career, Carden finished the contest connecting on 28 of his 40 pass attempts for 258 yards and one touchdown while tossing three picks.
“I think you will see Shane get better each rep,” McNeill said. “A couple of (throws) he would probably want back from the other night, but he’s got to trust those guys up front. They’re doing a pretty good job of playing as a nickel and not five pennies.”

After getting inside the 20 twice against the Tar Heels and coming out with only two field goals, East Carolina was able to cash in on its red zone opportunities on Saturday as it went 3-4 with three touchdowns to top the Miners.
“We’ve always been pretty efficient in the red zone here and it was good to see us get touchdowns in that area,” McNeill said. “I was pleased to see that efficiency there in the red zone.”

The East Carolina defense did a tremendous job of clamping down on the UTEP offense in key situations as it held the Miners to 3 of 12 on third downs.
The Pirates’ 11 turnovers gained on the season ranks 11th in the country and on Saturday they picked off UTEP’s preseason all-conference selection QB Nick Lamaison three times. Lamaison had entered the game interception-free after four contests.
JUCO transfer safety Chip Thompson led the way as he tallied two interceptions and eight tackles to be named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week.
The biggest pick of the night was provided by JUCO transfer corner Adonis Armstrong, who stepped in front of a Lamaison pass with under four minutes to go in the fourth quarter to squash the Miners’ hopes off a comeback.

Pirates’ senior RB Reggie Bullock will be out this week after sustaining a concussion against UTEP. Joining Bullock on the injury list are DE Justin Dixon (knee) and CB Jacobi Jenkins (leg). Inside linebacker Daniel Drake is listed as questionable for Thursday’s game with leg injury.