After a rough and almost shocking start to the season, the Gamecocks football team host East Carolina Saturday night. The two teams have only played twice in the past 14 seasons, so it wouldn’t be surprising if fans weren’t up to speed on East Carolina.
When most Gamecock fans glanced at the schedule for this year, they saw this game sandwiched between A&M and UGA, and inside seemed thankful we scheduled an easy team for a break. Also, when fans think of football in the other Carolina, probably everyone thinks about North Carolina and N.C. State. Regardless of how fans think though, you can no longer think of East Carolina this way. It has been clear East Carolina has been building its program as of late so someday soon they won’t be an afterthought to football in the Carolinas. Considering they are not in the ACC or SEC, that will be an ever bigger feat, but they appear to be on their way.So who in the world is East Carolina? East Carolina University is in Greenville, North Carolina, which is located between Raleigh and the Atlantic Ocean. The university has more than 27,000 students and was founded in 1907. The football team is known as the Pirates and they had previously competed in Conference USA for the past 17 years. The team started seeing success again after hiring former Gamecock assistant coach Skip Holtz in 2005, then former Texas Tech assistant coach Ruffin McNeil in 2010, going on to win several Conference USA titles and making it to a bowl game seven of the last eight seasons. This season the Pirates have joined the American Athletic Conference, which is one of the “Big Five” in college football, and compete against the likes of Central Florida, Cincinnati, and South Florida, among others. East Carolina finished with 18 wins the past two seasons and finished with a win against Ohio last year in the Beef O’Brady Bowl.
4 things to watch with East Carolina Saturday:
1) Explosive offensive players – no rest for the weary Gamecocks D with this squad coming to town. ECU was ninth in the country last year with over 40 points a game. Two of their biggest stars are back this year as seniors, and could be some of the best in the nation. Quarterback Shane Carden started his career with an interception to Shaq King in 2012, but since then has been one of the best in the country. Last year, he threw for more than 4,000 yards and not only threw 33 touchdowns, but completed over 70% of his passes. His favorite target, senior Justin Hardy, is expected to have a huge year: he caught 114 passes for almost 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns. Three seasons together make them a pretty dynamic duo, and if you’ve ever played against ECU on your Xbox, you know what I mean. ECU uses the short pass as their running game, spreading the defense all over the field and then looking for opportunities to exploit.
3) ECU offensive line may sink their Pirate ship – they lost a lot of experienced linemen last season, and this year’s squad combines for only 39 starts as a group. With so little starting time either individually or as a group, this could be the one area of opportunity for the South Carolina defense to try and exploit. The best way to shut down stars like they have is with pressure.
4) ECU defensive backfield could be like looking in the mirror for the Gamecocks – the Pirates already struggled against the pass (although some people like to call it a bend, don’t break strategy) but then lost eight of its first and second team players behind the line. For the South Carolina offense, this could be one time when all those reps in practice end up looking the same in the game. For senior Dylan Thompson and his corps of speedy receivers, they might be salivating all week waiting for game time to get here.
Regardless of their opportunities, the Gamecock faithful cannot take East Carolina lightly as they clearly have the talent and explosiveness to make you pay if you do.