McNeil and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, both disciples of the Texas Tech-style spread offense, has broken in a new quarterback, Shane Carden. That wasn't easy after Dominique Davis, now with the Atlanta Falcons, rewrote the Pirates' passing record book in just two years.
With a strong second-half performance in the Pirates' second game against South Carolina, Harden took over the starting job from the now-departed Rio Johnson and has thrown for 2,399 yards and 18 touchdowns. Sophomore Justin Hardy leads the team with 67 catches for 875 yards and 10 touchdowns, while steady Andrew Bodenheimer (28-241, two TDs) has caught a pass in 31 consecutive games.
Vintavious Cooper, a product of the Mississippi junior college ranks, has accepted the rushing load nicely. The 5-foot-9, 189-pound native of Homerville, Ga., is 21 rushing yards from 1,000 for the season, and he had 348 yards over the last three games. His 87-yard performance at Tulane ended his three-game streak of 100-yard games, the first from an ECU back in nine years.
He also has 22 receptions for 10.2 yards per catch, and six TDs in either manner.
Defensively, the Pirates have been exposed at times, most recently against Navy. The Midshipmen ran for 512 yards in a 56-28 romp, and South Carolina rung up 528 in an early-season 48-10 rout. UCF wasn't exactly kind, outscoring the Pirates 40-6 after Carden's 76-yard pass to Hardy gave ECU an early 14-0 lead.
The Pirates play a 3-4 defense, with 6-1, 327-pound Terry Williams among the nose tackles. Inside linebacker Jeremy Grove and free safety Damon Magazu lead the team with 65 tackles apiece, but outside linebacker Derrell Johnson has been the most disruptive. The 6-2, 261-pound junior leads with 41/2 sacks and nine tackles for loss.
Michael Barbour, the man who blasted 57- and 58-yard field goals last year in Huntington, is gone, but the Pirates are making do with Warren Harvey. The sophomore from Greenville has hit 12 of 17 field goals, with a long of 54 yards, and has hit all 38 extra points.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.