Most people wouldn’t have guessed that Shane Carden, the backup quarterback on the Pirates roster going into the season, would be making such an impact at this point of the season. Since taking the starting role back in September Carden has not looked back.
The past two games have been the most impressive for the Pirate offense thus far this season and Carden has been the gel holding everything together. After a big game against UAB this past Saturday Carden has thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions in the past two games including nearly 700 yards passing. “It’s not just me, the line has been playing great and all of our receivers have really been making plays for me,” Carden said.
“If we keep playing eleven man football, and keep making our routine plays you’ve all seen what we can do,” Carden said. The offense has put up a combined 83 points in the last two games and look to keep the points coming.
This week the Pirates will face nonconference opponent Navy at home in the Military Appreciation Game. “They’re going to be a sound team,” Carden said. “There’s no chance of them quitting; we got to go out there and be ready for a fist fight.” This will be Carden’s seventh start this season and if he keeps playing well it looks as though the Pirates have found themselves a solid quarterback for the remainder of the season and possibly through to the next.
Sophomore wide-out Justin Hardy has been nothing short of spectacular since the beginning of the season. Hardy averages 93 yards per game and has caught eight touchdowns in eight games this season. The most recent touchdown was a beautiful one-handed grab in double coverage this past weekend at UAB.
When asked about it, Hardy described the catch in simple words. “Shane threw the ball, it was in the air and my job is to go and get it at all times; so that’s what I did.”
Hardy has been on of the most consistent players on the offensive side of the ball for the Pirates and has recently been added to the list of wide receivers that are being watched for the Biletnikoff Award. This award is presented annually to the nation’s most impressive wide receiver. It was given to Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State last year, Blackmon was selected as the top receiver in the 2012 NFL draft.
“It is a great award,” Hardy said. “Making that list has made my grind even harder and I need to keep going hard every single day.”
If Hardy catches a touchdown this weekend, it will make it the fourth straight game in which he has brought in atleast one. This explosiveness is rare and the offense has really been benefiting from Hardy’s play. “I really think we can keep this coming; our mentality we have is just to come out and play our football and things start flowing,” said Hardy.
The player who accounted for the most points this past weekend in Birmingham was running back Vintavious Cooper. Cooper, a junior college transfer, had a career high in rushing yards with 172 and two touchdowns; he also caught one pass for a thirty yard touchdown.
“A lot of hard work, a lot of film studying, and a lot of trust,” Cooper said were the keys to his explosive game.
The running game which recently has been called a “running game by committee” has been straying away from that name. Cooper has been relied on throughout the season to be the go to back, he has accounted for nearly all of the Pirate’s running attack; including his twenty six rushing attempts at UAB.
“We feel like we’re a good offense when it comes to moving the ball,” Cooper said. “It’s a matter of us coming out and performing like we know we can; no matter what happens on defense or special teams we have to go out and make plays.”
This weekend versus Navy at home is going to be a big nonconference game for the Pirates. The Midshipmen are coming off of a three game win streak including a one-point win over Indiana this past weekend.
“They’re going to be a physical team that is very self-disciplined,” Cooper said. “It’s important that we don’t make any mental mistakes and play technically sound.”
The Pirate offense has been an impressive unit all year, but has really opened things up in these past two games. A balanced attack has helped to keep opponents on their toes as East Carolina has strung together two important conference wins. Navy will be a good test for this Pirate team as they still try to prove that they can get wins out of conference. If Carden and company keep playing this way they should be able to keep putting up impressive numbers. Kickoff from Dowdy-Ficklen will be at 3:30 p.m. this Saturday; look for a very physical hard-hitting game in this year’s Military Appreciation Day showdown.