Pirates bowling in the Big Easy

Published 5:10 pm Friday, December 21, 2012

East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden and the Pirates will look to win their first bowl game since 2007 today when they face UL in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. (ECU Photo/Rob Goldberg)

GREENVILLE — They may be playing in the Big Easy, but getting a bowl win will be nothing of the sort as the Pirates take on the University of Louisiana-Lafayette today at noon in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
The two programs have a lot in common as both East Carolina and the Ragin’ Cajuns head into today’s contest with matching 8-4 records, flexible defenses and mobile quarterbacks that are capable of beating teams with their arms and feet.
For East Carolina (Conference USA), today’s game marks its return to the postseason after a one-year absence, while UL (Sun Belt) ended a 41-year bowl drought in 2011 when it edged out San Diego State 32-30 on a last-second 50-yard field goal in the 2011 New Orleans Bowl.
ECU is thrilled to be back in the postseason and head coach Ruffin McNeill said that getting the program’s first bowl win since 2007 will go a long way for the Pirates.
“I think playing your best game right before the offseason is always important,” McNeill said. “Winning the bowl game will definitely help and aid our program.”
With both teams having lengthy layoffs since their last game, whichever team can get off to fast start figures to hold a major advantage.
“We’ll have to come out and handle the emotion early, both our emotion and their emotion,” ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “It will be a little bit more like a home game for those guys, so that’s always key when you’re playing a road game.”
Another key will be defending Cajuns quarterback Terrance Broadway who ranks 22nd in the nation in passer efficiency.
On the season, the 6-2, 205-pound sophomore passer has completed 185 of his 283 pass attempts for 2,526 yards, 16 TDs and has been intercepted eight times.
Broadway is also the team’s second-leading rusher having run for 661 yards and eight scores.
“They have an offense that is led by a quarterback that is very explosive,” ECU defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell said. “He has a great arm and throwing ability, yet he’s a kid you can run the zone read with and quarterback power. He’s a guy who’s a dual threat.”
Broadway is protected by a big, physical offensive line that is led by 6-5, 296-pound left tackle Leonardo Bates, an all-Sun Belt second-team selection.
When Broadway hands off the ball, Alonzo Harris (789 yards) has been the team’s best rusher, while Harry Peoples (61-774) has been the QB’s top target.
Bottom line, East Carolina has to be able to contain Broadway’s rush and scramble ability.
“We have to affect the quarterback,” Mitchell said. “That means don’t let him run, don’t let him scramble in passing situations.”
Pirates outside linebacker Derrell Johnson is the team’s leader in sacks with seven, while safety Damon Magazu leads ECU with 72 tackles.
The last time ECU was on the field was during their 65-59 double overtime victory over Marshall in which sophomore QB Shane Carden had his best outing of his young career by leading the team on an OT-forcing late drive before scoring the game-winning TD on a QB sneak.
That unit must continue to be explosive against a very sturdy Cajuns defense.
“There’s not one area where you can say, ‘They’re really good at this.’ They’re just really solid across the board,” Riley said of the UL defense.
The play of Carden (248-371-8, 2,838, 21) will be critical, but in order for the Pirates to win standout RB Vintavious Cooper (1,030) will have to make the UL defense respect the run.
When Carden goes to the air, expect Justin Hardy (83-1,046) to be a major weapon along with 6-8 WR Justin Jones (24-341).