CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As a disciple of Mike Leach's "Air Raid" offense, Lincoln Riley knows all the intricacies in building a high-power offense.
But Riley, East Carolina's 29-year-old offensive coordinator, used a new trick in bringing along first-year starting quarterback Shane Carden: thin out the playbook.
With a little less to think about, the sophomore flourished, throwing for 308 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-7 rout of Memphis. He completed 25 of 39, didn't throw an interception and was named Conference USA's offensive player of the week.
In his last three games, Carden has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 864 yards and seven touchdowns, most of his nine for the season.
Certainly, the degree of difficulty has decreased - Memphis' defense is not in the same atmosphere as that of South Carolina - but Carden is getting the hang of the college game. That's good news for East Carolina (4-3, 3-1 C-USA), but not necessarily for its next opponent, Alabama-Birmingham (1-5, 0-2).
"I think the simplification of the offense starting last week allowed him to just react instead of having to overthink everything," said ECU coach Ruffin McNeil. "The game is starting to slow down for Shane and because of that he is starting to recognize and understand coverages."
The next project: cultivating a dependable No. 2 receiver to complement Justin Hardy, keeping him out of double coverage. Hardy has 45 catches for 617 yards, which by itself is a league high. On a per-game basis, he is behind Marshall's Tommy Shuler, 93.7 to 88.1.
Seven other Pirates have caught at least 10 passes, but only Andrew Bodenheimer has 20.
With two of its players receiving weekly C-USA honors, resurgent Houston (3-3, 2-0) returns to action tonight against suddenly struggling Southern Methodist (2-4, 1-1).