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Game Slants
Saturday, September 8, 2012

By Denny O'Brien

Back to square one at QB

By Denny O'Brien
©2012 Bonesville.net
All Rights Reserved.

COLUMBIA, SC — There is at least one silver lining in East Carolina’s 48-10 blowout loss to South Carolina Saturday. Of the ten remaining opponents on the Pirates’ schedule, there isn’t anyone that rivals the Gamecocks’ talent.

If there was ever any doubt about the speed and depth of a Southeastern Conference contender, it was erased by a South Carolina team that dominated from start to finish.

That the Pirates won’t face anyone else that remotely compares to the Gamecocks physically is the good news.

The bad news for the Pirates is that any rhythm they built offensively in the second quarter against the Gamecocks was disrupted quickly after intermission. As a result, the Pirates are back at square one at quarterback, as the battle that was waged between Rio Johnson and Shane Carden in the preseason renewed itself Saturday.

“I thought it was inconsistent play,” Pirates Coach Ruffin McNeill said about his quarterbacks. “I’ve said from the beginning that I consider Shane a starter. We did not hesitate to put Shane in. “I’m not sure if it is a battle or what have you. We’ll talk about that when we get back.

"It’s too quick after the game to make that decision, but we have no problem with putting Shane in the game.”

While starting quarterback Rio Johnson was far from perfect in the opening half, he was hardly terrible, either. He finished the first half with 187 passing yards, though he did throw a pair of interceptions.

Carden had a less-than-brilliant start — his first pass was intercepted — though he settled in after his second drive and started clicking. His afternoon ended with 140 yards passing and a 34-yard touchdown toss to receiver Justin Hardy.

“When I got my shot, I just knew I had to make the most of it,” Carden said. “Obviously we don’t want to ever play like that. We turned the ball over way too much.

“Our offensive line did a great job. I don’t believe we’ve had a sack in the first two games, which, with how much we throw the ball, is kind of unheard of. We just have to take care of the ball better and our offense will play great.”

If you’re looking for positive points to pick from an otherwise embarrassing afternoon, the Pirates’ offensive line proved more than adequate against a stout Gamecocks’ defensive front. Johnson and Carden spent almost their day upright in the pocket instead of digging themselves out of the turf.

Both had time to move around the pocket and run through their progressions. Carden’s fourth quarter scoring toss to Hardy was as much a credit to his offensive line as it was to his ability to find an open receiver down field.

Carden and his teammates were just unable to enjoy parallel execution throughout the day.

Any chance the Pirates had to make this one competitive was extinguished by three first half turnovers, all of which occurred in the red zone. You simply don’t overcome those types of mistakes against an SEC opponent, let alone one that is ranked in the top ten and favored to win its division.

You also don’t win many games in this sport without stability at the quarterback position. And with the Pirates set to open their Conference USA schedule next week at rival Southern Miss, we can, at least for now, list the ECU starter as unknown.

That’s far from a comfortable position, but it’s one in which the Pirates are firmly planted.

The best case scenario for ECU would be for one of its quarterbacks to firmly establish himself as the starter this week and further separate himself from the pack with a good performance in Hattiesburg next week. But so far there has been no indication that either Carden or Johnson is ready to do so.

Both Carden and Johnson have had mixed moments of promise with mistakes common to their inexperience. That has produced inconsistent results from the offense.

If the Pirates have any chance of kicking the offense into full gear, they must first identify and establish a starting quarterback. Ideally that would have occurred sometime in August.

But at least whoever takes the snaps moving forward will have an easier road than the one he traveled in the Palmetto State.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

PAGE UPDATED 09/09/12 04:06 AM.

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