The former home of arguably the most loathed man in South Florida sports history, meaning ‘ole Skippy Holtz of course, makes this preview of the ECU Pirates a bit challenging to say the least. Regardless, East Carolina’s offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley is one of the hottest OCs in college football at the ripe age of 30 (31 on Sept. 5th). And Riley is certainly hot for a reason.
With that being said, the trending OC will face a distinctively tough start to the 2014 campaign, facing the likes of South Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina in the Pirates’ first four contests. The Pirates then host SMU before traveling to Raymond James to square off with the Bulls.
ECU finished 2013 10-3, just the second double-digit single season win total in school history. The source of these majestic victories? The offensive tandem of gunslinger Senior quarterback Shane Carden and wide receiver Justin Hardy. But really Carden is a boss. Carden lit up Conference USA in 2013, with a 4,139-yard accurate air assault and finished 387 of 549 (70.5 pct.) with the conference MVP award in-hand.
With Carden under helm the Pirates finished the season splitting hairs with Clemson for the 8th position in FBS Scoring offense. ECU averaged 40.2 points per game in 2013, finishing three spots ahead of the Heisman Trophy Winner Jameis Winston and the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles (328.1 ypg.). Hardy was Carden’s top target, hauling in 114 receptions for 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns. Carden was named the player with the ‘best instincts’ in the 2014 American Conference Preview by SportingNews. Carden is certainly a player to watch.
What happens when you run a high-power up-tempo offense? You land 12 of your 25 Class of 2014 commits from Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The 2014 class landed the Pirates in the 76th spot nationally according to 247Sports. But, RB Vintavious Cooper is currently in training camp vying for a roster spot with the Detroit Lions, so the incumbent tailback has critical shoes to fill. Cooper was named the MVP of the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl in December following the Pirates 37-20 victory over the Ohio Bobcats a season ago.
What results can you expect with a sub-par defense? Some serious problems down the stretch winning contests. Though the Pirates finished 2013 with one of the school’s better defensive units, ranked 36th nationally, they lost linebacker Jeremy Grove to persistent shoulder injuries that have led him to being permanently sidelined. I only say sub-par because the Pirates have to fill seven starting positions due to attrition from last year’s squad, including three linebackers and three defensive backs. Long story short, there are numerous voids to be filled by new faces for ECU to maintain a top-rated defense in 2014.
The end result: I believe the Bulls will win the matchup, if and only if, the USF secondary can limit Justin Hardy. Putting the brakes on Hardy will allow the rush to put serious pressure on Shane Carden and force him to roll out of the pocket. The Bulls offense must look to exploit the new faces in the Pirates secondary with Andre Davis and Rodney Adams. I like our odds in this matchup.
Fun Side Note