The Opposition: East Carolina
Chase Kroll: Outside of the Navy game, ECU’s rush defense has been one of the defense’s stronger points. The coaching staff is quick to praise this front seven and its ability to limit big plays. Grove leads the team in tackles but isn’t being counted on as much as he was last year, as players like Kyle Tudor, Derrell Johnson, and Montese Overton have stepped up at the linebacker position. I think the defense should respond well from last week’s embarrassing loss.
CK: Anytime you lose by over 50 points to a conference opponent, the feeling after the game sticks around in your head for a while. I’m sure the players and coaching staff would say that isn’t on their mind but they certainly remember. This team wants to prove that last week was an anomaly and that they can compete in C-USA. ECU is prepared to face a very talented Houston team.
TDC: What challenge does sophomore quarterback Shane Carden pose to a defense?
CK: Carden is really starting to come into his own as the Pirates starting quarterback. Though he has his ups and downs — like any first year starter — he has built a strong connection with wide receiver Justin Hardy, who has a team high 9 touchdown catches this season. But I think the most underrated aspect of Carden’s game is his ability to run the ball and fight for extra yards. Don’t expect to see him slide or run out-of-bounds.
CK: Though traditionally thought of as an air raid offense under head coach Ruffin McNeill, the Pirates offense has been fairly balanced between the run and pass. Last week against Navy, ECU ran the ball 33 times, compared to just 29 passes.
ECU started the season with four running backs in rotation, but Cooper has earned his role as the feature back. He is on pace for a thousand-yard season after last season’s top running back finished with just over 600 yards. What’s even more surprising is that this is Cooper’s first season as a true running back. Cooper, a JuCo transfer, played quarterback last season.
CK: This season does look to be an improvement in McNeill’s third year. After losing a bowl game in his first season and missing a bowl game last year, the pressure is on for McNeill to produce. The Pirates just need one more win to be bowl-eligible, but I think a bowl win will be necessary to keep McNeill off the hot seat.
With that being said, this year’s team does have more talent and depth across the board than the rosters in years past.
CK: The keys to a Pirate victory lie in the offense’s ability to limit turnovers and the defense’s ability to slow down the passing game. When Carden and the offense hang on to the ball, they win. When they don’t, they lose. It is that simple.
The Pirates’ defense has been susceptible to the pass all season long, especially to deep passes. If the defense can rebound from last week and limit big gains, they will be in a good position to come away with a win, and a possible bowl birth.