Published 6:25 pm Friday, October 19, 2012

East Carolina WR Justin Hardy and the Pirates will look to win their second game in a row today when they take on UAB. (ECU Photo/Rob Goldberg)

GREENVILLE — The Pirates’ quest to record back-to-back wins for the first time this season takes place tonight as they will look to carry the momentum from their 41-7 victory over Memphis to Alabama where they will take on UAB at 7 p.m.
East Carolina bounced back from its disappointing loss to Central Florida in a big way as it pieced together arguably its best performance of the year on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Led by OLB Gabe Woullard, who recorded 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks, the Pirates defense dominated a lifeless Memphis offense by limiting it to 281 yards in what is statistically its best outing of the season.
“I thought our depth on defense really showed on Saturday,” ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said. “We did a good job of defending on third down (4-of-16 conversions for Memphis) and I thought that was a big key. We also really influenced the quarterback with pressure and coverage.”
Offensively, ECU (4-3, 3-1) continues to make progress under first-year starting quarterback Shane Carden, who like the defense, turned in his best performance of the year by completing 25 of his 33 pass attempts for a 308 yards and five touchdowns, both career-highs.
“He’s getting better each week,” ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “He’s certainly not there yet. After watching the film on Sunday there are certainly a lot of things that he and we can do better but he just keeps progressing and he’s played his best game each week.”
One of the biggest areas of improvement on offense is the unit’s work inside the 20. After the first four games of the year the Pirates ranked 76th in the nation in red zone efficiency (77.8 percent), but have since climbed up to 62nd (81).
Throughout the first four games of the year ECU reached the red zone nine times and scored four TDs, three of which came against FCS Appalachian State.
In the last three games, the Pirates have entered the red zone 11 times and crossed the goal line on nine of those occasions.
Last week the ECU offense just started to scratch the surface of the potential of Justin Hardy and Justin Jones as the two teamed up for 217 yards and five TD receptions.
Their elevation of play poses a giant threat to defenses when the Pirates get into scoring position.
“The last few years we have been a little one dimensional down there with (former WR Lance Lewis) and (having two threats) really makes defenses declare,” Riley said. “You can double one guy and not give up too much around, but if you decide you want to double two guys you are going to be giving up a run or throws to other people. It’s going to make (defenses) susceptible to other things. It’s a great advantage.”
Another great advantage is the rise in play of JUCO transfer running back Vintavious Cooper, who has seemingly made ECU run away from their running-by-committee attack in favor of riding the hot hand.
Against Memphis, Cooper ran 16 times for 96 yards, while RBs Michael Dobson and Hunter Furr received a total of six attempts and produced one yard.
“He’s playing pretty well,” McNeill said of Cooper. “We still want to get Mike Dobson and Hunter more involved, and when Reggie Bullock (who has been out two weeks with a concussion) comes back we want to get him more involved too. … Tay has great vision and catches the ball well, he has a knack to make the cut and get vertical.”
The Pirates will face a UAB defense that is capable but has struggled and ranks 75th in the nation in total defense (411 ypg).
That unit is led by star middle linebacker Marvin Burdette who had 17 tackles during the Blazers (1-5, 0-2) 39-17 loss to Houston.
“He’s just passionate. He looks likes he plays really hard and is just one of those guys you would love to coach,” Riley said of Burdette. “He’s not the biggest linebacker in the league and I don’t know if he’s the most physically gifted but he gets off blocks and plays violent.”
Offensively, UAB uses two quarters in junior Jonathan Perry and freshman Austin Brown. Brown (81-134-1, 1,130) has started the last two games and is more of the drop-back passer.
The Blazers average a C-USA third-best 309 passing yards per game and WR Jackie Williams is their top target as he leads his team with 26 catches for 424 yards.