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Inside Game Day
Saturday, November 3, 2012

By Al Myatt

Chips down, Pirates come through

Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

GREENVILLE Motivation took several forms for East Carolina on Saturday, but all of it was good as the Pirates thumped Houston 48-28 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

ECU quarterback Shane Carden is from Houston but the Cougars showed him no attention in the recruiting process.

"This game in general for our team was huge," said the sophomore in his first season as starter. "We were sitting at 5-4. If we go to 5-5, we still have to make bowl eligible going into the bye week. There were a lot of things that could happen. ... It meant a lot to me. I told the boys that this was kind of a hometown team. It would mean a little bit more to me."

Carden completed 31 of 43 passes for 305 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. The running game provided good balance with Vintavious Cooper contributing 140 yards and a score on 33 carries as the Pirates netted 245 yards on the ground.

Danny Webster was one of Carden's favorite targets with six catches for 46 yards and ECU's first three TDs. Webster stepped up after an early drop, delivering on the potential that his speed and quickness defined for him as a recruit.

"It felt great to get out there and contribute to the offense," Webster said. "After the drop, I was extremely upset. I don't accept those kind of things. I expect more out of myself than that. It was good. A lot of my teammates came up to me and said, 'Don't worry about it, Danny. We're behind you. We know you can get out there and make plays.' ... To come back and make an easy catch after that and make a few plays, it was extremely good."

Webster scored on receptions covering 6, 12 and 9 yards.

"Three touchdowns," mused Pirate coach Ruffin McNeill. "That was big. He was very vital around the red zone area. Danny is a guy who can catch and cause mismatches. That's why you see empty (backfield) so we can get him on somebody. He can work and get free on option routes. I was proud of Danny."

ECU quickly put a 56-28 loss to Navy last week in the rear view mirror. Getting back on track and becoming bowl eligible were priorities.

"We didn't have a very good performance last Saturday, but we came back today and showed everybody what we can do," said receiver Justin Hardy, who said he was a "little sore" after leaving the game.

McNeill said the upcoming bye week comes at a good time for the Pirates to heal up.

Cooper wasn't around for the 56-3 loss the Cougars put on the Pirates last season in Houston, but he definitely responded to the loss to Navy last week.

"It's pretty tough, as tough a loss as it was," Cooper said. " ... Some negative thoughts may be coming through your mind as if we might not be that good a team. Coach told us at the beginning of the week that it couldn't be like that. Our season doesn't end because we lost to Navy. We had a bad game but we had to make that transition. We had to come back and work hard through the week and continue to progress through the conference and get bowl eligible.

"Stepping on the field, we knew we were going to move the ball. We had that confidence in each other. We have that confidence in our quarterback and the offensive line. They put their trust and their confidence in me and the other running back (Reggie Bullock, 13 carries for 67 yards) as well that we'll be able to move the ball on any defense that we play against."

No Logan, only his type of stats

Former football coach Steve Logan was selected for induction into the East Carolina Hall of Fame this weekend. So was former quarterback David Garrard, a star during the era in which Logan became the winningest coach in school history.

Both had indicated months ago that they would not be able to attend induction ceremonies due to schedule conflicts.

ECU's play on Saturday was reminiscent of the Logan/Garrard heyday. Logan used to shoot for 150 yards rushing, 250 passing and at least 28 points. The Pirates reached all three plateaus before the third quarter ended.

"There's nothing wrong around here that a win won't cure," was another Loganism.

By that standard, there's nothing wrong around the program going into a bye week, although the Pirates might have been on some shaky ground if they hadn't responded to last week's loss in the manner that they did.

After a 76-35 loss to the Midshipmen in 2010, the Pirates were 1-3 the rest of the season. A beat-up defense allowed an average of 50 points per game the last four games that year.

ECU's recovery from this year's disappointing loss to Navy was a statement about program character in McNeill's third year as head coach.

The Pirates have much better depth and talent on the defensive unit after two recruiting classes aimed at improving that situation.

Unlike the 54-42 win at UAB in 2010 that made the Pirates bowl eligible after the initial blowout by Navy, the Cougars are not a perpetually-struggling program. They stumbled out of the starting blocks with new coach Tony Levine and David Piland replaced Case Keenum this year at quarterback. The Cougars began 0-3 but had won four of their last five. They were in contention in Conference USA's West Division and they could still make a bowl.

Houston (4-5, 3-2) was rolling and had key goals in its sights. ECU blunted its momentum by jumping out to a commanding 28-0 lead.

"I thought we played really well," McNeill said. "I'm very proud of them. We stayed with our plan and we played extremely hard."

Parting gift

The outcome served as a parting gift with the Cougars heading for the Big East Conference next season. ECU extended its lead in the series to 7-5.

The Pirates showed great resiliency. ECU's defense played with tenacity. The offense mixed its package and executed well. Special teams stepped up, particularly with a 41-yard punt return by Hardy that set up the second score as East Carolina sprinted out to a 28-0 lead.

The Pirates became bowl eligible for the sixth time in the last seven seasons, so the speculation officially can begin as to where ECU will be in the postseason. The outcome kept the Pirates, 5-1 in league play, in contention for the crown in Conference USA's East Division, although ECU will need some help to overtake Central Florida.

The Pirates got a celebration penalty after a purple swarm came off the sideline to congratulate Ty Holmes after his 28-yard interception for a touchdown gave ECU a 48-21 lead with 2:01 left in the game. The gleeful Pirates earned every yard of the infraction.

E-mail Al Myatt.

PAGE UPDATED 11/05/12 10:45 AM.

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