#54 East Carolina Football 2014 Preview

East Carolina Pirates

Overall Rank: #54
#4 American

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East Carolina has been a consistent bowl participant over the last decade and a half, but they face a new challenge heading to the American Athletic Conference from Conference USA. This year’s schedule will be the toughest the Pirates have seen in a long time. The AAC may not be a great conference, but they are a step up from CUSA. And, to make matters worse, East Carolina’s non-conference slate includes South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

2013 Record: 10-3, 6-2
2013 Bowl: Beef O’Brady’s Bowl vs. Ohio (W 37-20)
Coach: Ruffin McNeill (29-22 at East Carolina, 30-22 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Lincoln Riley
Defensive Coordinator: Rick Smith

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Breon Allen, RB, 311 yards
Passing: Shane Carden, QB, 4,139 yards
Receiving: Justin Hardy, WR, 1,284 yards
Tackles: Zeek Bigger, LB, 77
Sacks: Terrell Stanley, DE, 7.0
Interceptions: Zeek Bigger, LB, 1; Brandon Williams, LB, 1; DeShaun Amos, CB, 1

Other Key Returnees: WR Isaiah Jones, LB Montese Overton, CB Detric Allen, K Warren Harvey

Key Losses: RB Vintavious Cooper, WR Reese Wiggins, WR Lance Ray, OL Will Simmons, OL Adham Elsawi, OL Jordan Davis, LB Derrell Johnson, LB Kyle Tudor, DB Damon Magazu, CB Adonis Armstrong

The offense, which ranked eighth in the country with 40.2 points per game in 2013, will once again lead the way. Quarterback Shane Carden is coming off of a great junior campaign in which he passed for 4,139 yards and 33 touchdowns, while throwing just ten interceptions. He also rushed for ten touchdowns. ECU is always deep and talented at wide receiver and Carden has his favorite targets returning. Justin Hardy caught an amazing 114 passes for 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns. Isaiah Jones added 62 receptions for 604 yards and five scores. Surely those numbers are boosted due to the fact that this is a pass first offense, but do not let that take away from the talent that Hardy and Jones possess. DaQuan Barnes, Davon Grayson, Cedric Thompson, Bryce Williams and Cam Worthy are all quality options at wide receiver as well. Grayson, a 6-2 sophomore, is a player worth watching this year. He only played in six games as a freshman, but four of his 18 catches ended up in the end zone. The return of three key offensive linemen should help keep Carden on his feet and break in a new ground attack. Running back Vintavious Cooper is gone after rushing for 1,193 yards and 13 scores as a senior. Breon Allen will step into a starting role and Chris Hairston should see more action, with some competition from redshirt freshman Marquez Grayson. Even if the Pirates fail to find a 1,000 yard rusher out of that group, this will still be one of the most dangerous offenses in the conference.

The concern is whether or not the defense can provide the offense with any help. The unit has been improving under Coach Ruffin McNeill over the last few years, but the AAC is going to prove to be a whole new ballgame. The offenses tend to be more balanced than those seen in year’s past. Replacing a large group of lost starters does not help. The defensive line, which was the strength of the team last year, took a big hit when sack specialist Terrell Stanley was ruled out for the year following an injury suffered in a car accident. That leaves fellow end Chrishon Rose as the lone returning starter up front in ECU’s 3-4 defense. The story at linebacker is even worse. Zeek Bigger is back after totaling 77 tackles in 2013 and Brandon Williams has proven to be a capable run stopper in the middle, but getting pressure from the outside linebackers will be key.

The Bottom Line:
Eventually the week in and week out grind will catch up to East Carolina and having those tough three non-conference games in the first four weeks of the season is not going to give the defense any confidence heading into the AAC. The offense is good enough on its own to get this group back to a bowl game and a pleasant surprise from the defense will have East Carolina competing for an American Athletic Conference title.

Projected Bowl: Armed Forces Bowl

2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 140.1 (91st in nation, 10th in conference)
Passing Offense: 328.1 (11, 1)
Total Offense: 468.2 (25, 2)
Scoring Offense: 40.2 (8, 2)
Rushing Defense: 116.7 (13, 1)
Pass Defense: 252.1 (93, 12)
Total Defense: 368.8 (36, 6)
Scoring Defense: 24.8 (49, 6)
Turnover Margin: 0.6 (21, 4)
Sacks:  2.92 (13, 2)
Sacks Allowed: 2.31 (82, 8)


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