HUNTINGTON - With a new quarterback and a capable new running back, East Carolina is straying from its Texas Tech-type "Air Raid" roots of head coach Ruffin McNeil and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.
Not far, mind you, but balance is the buzzword in Greenville, N.C.
In 2009 and 2010, Marshall and the rest of Conference USA had to cope with Dominique Davis, the former Boston College player who overhauled the passing section of the ECU record book. Davis threw for 3,225 yards and 25 touchdowns last year and 62 TDs in his 25-game career.
With both teams fighting for one bowl bid in last year's Herd-ECU game, Davis tied the game with 14 seconds left in regulation. He wasn't finally silenced all until an all-out blitz chased him all the way to the midfield "M" logo, forcing him into an interception.
That ended a season in which the Pirates threw 494 passes and ran 397 times, about a 55-45 pass-run ratio. Factor in 30 sacks and that was more like 59-41.
With sophomore Shane Carden at the controls and junior-college transfer Vintavious Cooper in the backfield, the ratio is nearly 50-50 - 397 pass attempts and 391 rushes.
The Pirates' depth chart still lists two outside receiver positions and two on the inside, but they're not always the four-wide attack that dominated McNeil's first two seasons.
"They're committed to be a balanced attack," said Chris Rippon, Marshall's defensive coordinator. "They're keeping the foundation of the offense, four wide receivers - or three wide receivers and a big, big, big tight end who wants to be a wide receiver."
The Thundering Herd (5-6 4-3 Conference USA) will face that balanced attack when it takes on the Pirates (7-4, 6-1) on Friday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C. Kickoff time is 2 p.m., with the game airing on CBS Sports Network (Suddenlink 512).
After a 2011 season in which you would be hard-pressed to name the Pirates' leading rusher (Torrance Hunt), Cooper has become a force. The 5-foot-9, 189-pound junior from Homverville, Ga., broke out with 151 yards against Texas-El Paso, and has followed that up with three other 100-yard games and two games of 96 and 87.
He will enter the Marshall game 22 yards short of a 1,000-yard season, which should be a given - the Herd defense has given that much up on a single carry in six of 11 games.