In his third year coaching the Pirates Coach Ruffin McNeill earned his first winning season. After a disappointing season last year which ended without a bowl bid, McNeill's Pirate team responded this season. The Pirates went 8-4 overall and 7-1 in Conference USA; their overall goals were a conference championship and a bowl game.
Unfortunately the team's only conference loss, which came to Central Florida on October 4th, ultimately held the Pirates out of the Conference USA Championship. This winning season shows the Pirate Nation that Ruffin McNeill has a grip on this team and is taking it in the right direction. The Pirates were a relatively young team this season; with practice they can only get better next season; a season that Ruffin McNeill will have the team prepared for.
Carden comes in and leads
Sophomore quarterback Shane Carden was called into the starting role for the Pirates in their third game of the season against conference opponent Southern Miss. Carden led the team to their first conference win of the season and never looked back.
Carden was impressive since getting the starting job and became an instant leader on the field. Through twelve games, Carden finished with a 66.8 % completion percentage with 2,838 yards, 21 TDs passing, 8 TDs running and 9 interceptions.
The Pirate's star receiver Justin Hardy caught eight of his ten touchdowns after Carden took over the starting role. These two will be a great one-two punch for the Pirates next season, as they are both sophomores.
Senior Wide receiver Andrew Bodenheimer was one of the highlights of the year. His leadership and consistent play led this receiving unit. Bodenheimer, holds a streak of 32 games straight with a reception; he came here as a walk-on, and had a touchdown in each of the last two games of the season. Bodenheimer saved his best play for last.
This season Carden showed the Pirate Nation that he can lead this offense and that with so many players returning next season this team doesn't plan on slowing down.
The running game proves themselves
Another bright spot for the team this season was the running game. Vintavious Cooper carried most of the load for the Pirates and had 1,059 yards on the season with seven touchdowns. As a team, the Pirates averaged 134.8 yards per game on the ground.
The running back by committee approach that coach Ruff had coming into the season eventually became less prominent with Cooper's strong play. However; Bullock, Dobson, and Furr also showed a lot of hard work throughout the season when their numbers were called. The running game is something that stayed consistent for the Pirates all year. This year's running attack provided a much more balanced offense for the Pirates; something this team will need to carry over into next season.
The Defense looks to build momentum
The Pirate defense gave up 30 points per game this season; a stat they will look to improve on next season. Junior defensive back Damon Magazu led the team in total tackles on the season with 72; Jeremy Grove came in second with 71 total tackles.
Defending the run was the area in which the defense had most of their success. The line-backing core for the Pirates benefited most from the play of Grove, who proved his ability to lead as a sophomore.
Giving up big plays through the air was a problem for the defense all season long. The defense gave up 27 touchdowns through the air, ten more then they allowed on the ground. Key players on the defense will be returning for the Pirates next season which in part should lead to them becoming better as a team.
Coach McNeill's first winning season was one filled with a lot of positive signs for Pirate fans. The team achieved one of its goals, in a bowl game, but fell short of their second goal of a Conference USA Championship. Now the Pirates ready themselves for bowl season; and whatever team it brings.