Mustangs face tall task in showdown with Pirates

Oct 1, 2014 - 3:11 PM Greenville, NC ( - After an outstanding run through their non-conference schedule, the 22nd-ranked East Carolina Pirates will play their first-ever American Athletic Conference game on Saturday afternoon when they take on the winless SMU Mustangs at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

After an 0-2 start, SMU coach June Jones resigned and left the reins to former defensive coordinator Tom Mason on an interim basis, but the results have been more of the same in the two subsequent games. The Mustangs suffered a 58-6 loss at home to nationally-ranked Texas A&M on Sept. 20 and followed that up with another home drudging at the hands of TCU last Saturday, 56-0.

"We have to look at everything we're doing right now," said Mason. "We can't keep going like we're going. We just have to believe in ourselves."

ECU has a loss under its belt, a 33-23 setback at then-nationally ranked South Carolina on Sept. 6, but otherwise it has impressed enough to earn a coveted spot in the top-25 poll. The Pirates went on the road to defeat Virginia Tech on Sept. 13 (28-21), then came out on top of a shootout versus North Carolina (70-41) before enjoying a bye last week.

"One of the things we do is divide the season into four quarters," ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said. "We just finished the first quarter of our season, and now we enter the second, which began last week with the bye and this week against SMU...We approached the bye week as a chance to correct things on all three sides of the ball."

The all-time series between these two programs is knotted up at 2-2. SMU won the two most recent bouts in 2009 and 2010.

SMU's offensive attack has been awful, as it has scored just 12 points in four games for an FBS-worst 3.0 ppg. Not surprisingly, its total offense (207.3 ppg) is also the nation's worst.

The Mustangs have been understandably a mess under center, with four signal callers combining for just one touchdown and four interceptions on 51 percent passing. Garrett Krstich (27-of-54, 279 yards, INT) earned the start in the most recent game.

Der'rick Thompson (12 receptions, 191 yards) and Stephen Nelson (11 receptions, 100 yards) are the only players with double-digit receptions, while Nate Halverson (eight receptions, 82 yards) has the team's only touchdown.

Of the squad's mere 44.2 rushing yards per game, Kevin Pope (30 carries, 101 yards) has earned most of it.

In addition to a horrible offense, SMU has also played poorly on the defensive side of the ball in allowing 50.5 ppg and 551.0 ypg.

Darrion Richardson (30 tackles), Ajee Montes (24 tackles, FR) and Hayden Greenbauer (23 tackles, INT) have been the only bright spots for the defense.

Meanwhile, ECU has one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, ranking 13th in scoring (43.2 ppg) and seventh in yardage (581.5 ppg). It piled on a school-record 789 yards in its most recent performance.

Shane Carden has been spectacular under center, completing over 62 percent of his passes for 1,469 yards (367.2 ypg) with 14 touchdowns (three rushing) to just two interceptions.

Carden is equipped with one of the nation's best receiving corps. Justin Hardy (359 yards, two TDs) and Isaiah Jones (29 receptions, 323 yards, three TDs) have both been outstanding. Cam Worthy is an electric deep threat with 302 yards on just 11 catches but is suspended and won't be eligible to return until Oct. 23. Trevon Brown (11 receptions, 206 yards) has been on the receiving end of four Carden touchdowns.

The rushing attack is highly effectively as well. Amazingly, Breon Allen (346 yards, three TDs), Marquez Grayson (134 yards) and Chris Hairston (126 yards) all average at least nine yards per carry.

Even after giving up 40 points to UNC in a game that got out of hand early, the Pirates' defense has still played well this season in giving up 25.5 ppg and 360.8 ypg.

Josh Hawkins has shined in the secondary with three INTs and another seven passes defended. Zeek Bigger (54 tackles, INT), Brandon Williams (36 tackles, 3.0 TFL) and Johnathan White (19 tackles, 4.0 TFL) are also in the midst of solid campaigns.

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