Marshall Game 12: East Carolina
NOTE: This is the 24th and final in a series of previews on Marshall and West Virginia football opponents.
Checking them out
If you're talking about a team that gave up 52 points in regulation in its last regular-season game and then sacked the defensive coordinator, you're not just talking about Marshall.
The East Carolina defense played its role in that eventual 65-59 shootout, even if it forced the winning turnover in the second overtime. After giving up 43 points in a bowl loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, Brian Mitchell was gone. (Yes, he landed on his feet at West Virginia, where he coaches corners.)
ECU's offense is so similar to that of Marshall, it's scary. Shane Carden (3,116 passing yards, 23 TDs) has caught on at quarterback and has a number of veteran weapons around him, and the Pirates are going to more of a "NASCAR" attack. The wild card is the improvement in the defense - like Marshall, the only way that can go is up.
The Carden-to-Justin Hardy (1,105 yards, 11 TDs) combination can make any defensive coordinator look bad. Other targets include Danny Webster (34-332, five TDs) and 6-foot-8, 277-pound Justin Joes (25-346, three TDs). Vintavious Cooper (1,049 rushing yards, seven TDs) remains indefinitely suspended but is expected to return and regain his starting job at running back.
The ECU line gave up 29 sacks, but that's out of 517 pass plays (488 attempts plus sacks). With four offensive line starters back, expect that number to decline.
New defensive coordinator Rick Smith greets eight returning starters, and he will try to turn that into a positive. He is switching from the 3-4 to a multiple scheme, which should be picked up by veterans such as free safety Damon Magazu (80 tackles) and linebackers Jeremy Grove (83 tackles, 4.5 for loss) and Derrell Johnson (11 TFLs, seven sacks).
Special teams will pose problems for most opponents, with kicker Warren Harvey and punter Trent Tignor proven commodities. Hardy is just as dangerous a punt returner as he is at receiver.
In eight conference games, MU's Rakeem Cato gained 2,521 total yards to Carden's 2,492, but Carden had a higher efficiency rating, 152.6-148.6. The major factor? Yards per attempt, Carden 8.10, Cato 7.15 ... Roll call of ECU coaches who coached/played with current West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen at Texas Tech: head coach McNeil, Lincoln Riley (offensive coordinator), Brandon Jones (offensive line) and Dave Nichol (outside receivers). ... Jeff Connors, in his 13th year as strength and conditioning coach, played collegiately at Salem. .... And in the wildest link of all, special-teams coordinator/running backs coach Kirk Doll helped ECU to a Southern Conference title in the early 1970s. The head coach? Sonny Randle, years before his tumultuous stint at Marshall.
Aug. 31 Old Dominion DNP
Sept. 5 (Thur.) Florida Atlantic* DNP
Sept. 14 Virginia Tech DNP
Sept. 28 at North Carolina L 6-27
Oct. 5 at Middle Tennessee* DNP
Oct. 12 at Tulane* W 28-23
Oct. 19 Southern Miss W 24-14
Nov. 2 at Fla. International* DNP
Nov. 9 Tulsa* DNP
Nov. 16 UAB* W 42-35
Nov. 23 at North Carolina State DNP
Nov. 29 (Fri.) at Marshall* W 65-59 (2 OT)
* Conference USA games