2014 College Football Preview: East Carolina Pirates


The East Carolina Pirates football team is making a move this year into a new league. After their long association with Conference USA, they are entering the American Athletic Conference. Their new opponents will be many familiar faces who also have made the jump from Conference USA recently. There will also be the UConn Huskies, Cincinnati Bearcats, and South Florida Bulls from the defunct Big East Conference. This means the door is open to the Pirates to make a big splash in their first year in the league.

Coach: Ruffin McNeil (5th year, 30-22)

Stadium: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (Capacity: 50,000)

Last Season: 10-3, 6-2 (Conference USA)

The 2013 East Carolina Pirates were ruled by an explosive offensive that routinely scored more than 30 points on its way to a second place finish in the East Division of Conference USA. It was an historic season for the Pirates as they defeated both North Carolina and NC State in the same season for the first time. The Pirates ended the regular season with a blowout loss against rival Marshall, but were rewarded with a bid to the Beef O Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, FL. They defeated the Ohio Bobcats of the MAC to claim the Beef O Brady trophy and get their tenth win on the season.

Offense: The Texas Tech Air Raid

A fair amount of the East Carolina coaching staff came to East Carolina with Ruffin McNeil from Texas Tech when they not retained following the firing of Mike Leach in 2009. Perhaps the move from Red Raider to Pirate was somewhat natural to them. The biggest recruit was probably Lincoln Riley, who became the offensive coordinator and had been the WR coach under Leach. He brought the Air Raid offense with him.

The Air Raid is a version of the spread that utilizes four or more receivers on most plays. Then you rely on good route running and for the quarterback to make good decisions. The running back becomes a dump off guy and pass blocker in most situations. Once the pass has been established, the running back and punish overstretched defenses.

The theory is twofold. First, defenses will have to play more defensive backs to cover the extra receivers. The 5th receiver on an Air Raid team is likely recruited to be a major player on the team. They are likely to be better players than the 6th or 7th defensive back on a normal college defense.
Second, the defense cannot cover forever. By flooding the field with receivers, you multiply the chances that coverage will break down sooner rather than later and there will be some hole to exploit. Get some talented receivers to make plays after the catch and you have a system that has produced Michael Crabtree, Wes Welker, and Danny Amendola.

The Pirates have such a receiver, Justin Hardy. The senior made a series of preseason award watch lists including the Biletnikoff. He caught 114 balls last year for over 1200 receiving yards. His presence will set up the rest of the offense. Right there with him will be sophomore Isaiah Jones.
The one concern is the guys who do the blocking. The offensive line is in transition and holds ECU’s one true question mark on this side of the ball.

Defense: 3-4

If there was a place where East Carolina was deficient last year, it was on the defensive side of the ball. New defensive coordinator Rick Smith utilized a 3-4 system, but was smart enough to adapt the scheme to the Pirates personnel last year. This did not mean that there were not growing pains, as ECU gave up a fair number of points per game, but their offense scored twice as much as their opponents. Any defense that is paired with a spread offense will give up more yards, since they will be on the field more often and likely to get tired over time.

Nov 23, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack running back Shadrach Thornton (10) is stopped during the 3rd quarter by East Carolina Pirates outside linebacker Montese Overton (51) at Carter Finley Stadium. The East Carolina Pirates defeated the North Carolina State Wolfpack 42-28. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

In the second year of Smith, the Pirates should be better adapted to the 3-4 scheme. This will offer them an opportunity to better close off opponents and let the offense win the games. Junior Terrell Stanley offered a strong rush from the line with 7 sacks. Junior Montese Overton added 6 more from the outside linebacker position with senior Maurice Falls returning to add to the pressure this year.

Special Teams

Senior kicker Warren Harvey took a step back last year, but there is confidence that he can return to the form of 2012. Texas A&M transfer junior Davis Plowman takes over the punting duties. The return game has three threats in Hardy, Jones, and Senior Breon Allen.

Player to Watch: Shane Carden, Senior, Quarterback, 6’2” 221 lbs

The Air Raid requires a good trigger man. If you are going to run a Texas Tech offense, then you might as well have a Texas quarterback to do it. Carden has fit the bill over his last two years at East Carolina. He enters this year on the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien watch lists, amongst others.

Carden had a good season last year for the Pirates. He threw 33 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions, and most those picks came from the Virginia Tech and Marshall games. He accumulated over 4,000 yds passing at an efficient 71% completion percentage. The only concern is that he was sacked 29 times. This is a byproduct of the Air Raid, which values wide receivers more than extra protection for the QB.

Carden would be a dark horse Heisman candidate if two things were different. One, if the Air Raid was not considered a gimmick system offense by traditionalists. Two, if he played at a school with a higher profile and deeper schedule than East Carolina. These things may change in the future, but for Carden, individual success will likely be defined by team success.


8/30/14 North Carolina Central
09/06/14 at South Carolina
09/13/14 at Virginia Tech
09/20/14 North Carolina
10/04/14 SMU
10/11/14 at USF
10/23/14 Connecticut

More from East Carolina Pirates

11/01/14 at Temple
11/13/14 at Cincinnati
11/22/14 Tulane
11/28/14 at Tulsa
12/04/14 UCF

Prediction: 10-2 (7-1 AAC)

The Pirates are primed for another big year. The losses that I think will happen are South Carolina and Cincinnati. I think ECU will beat North Carolina at home and a transitioning Virginia Tech team on the road. The only other call that I am making will be that ECU beats UCF at home on the last game of the season. Will this mean an AAC title for the Pirates? You’ll have to look out for tomorrow.

Please like our Facebook page, here. We are striving for 100 likes.