Mustangs face tall task in showdown with Pirates

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

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.