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Conference USA East Division leader East Carolina comes calling to FIU Stadium on Saturday for what just might be its only appearance ever at FIU. You see the Pirates are moving to the American Athletic Conference next season so the only way they meet the Panthers again is in a non-conference game or bowl game.
ECU brings a fast-tempo, high-powered offense to Miami that likes to run a bunch of plays. The Pirates defense features a strong front seven, but a secondary that can be thrown on which could make for a good day for FIU quarterback E.J. Hilliard.
For more on the East Carolina Pirates, here is Nathan Summers, ECU beat writer for the Daily Reflector newspaper in Greenville, North Carolina, to answer 5 Questions on the Pirates. You can follow Nathan on Twitter: @NateSumm99 and you can read Nathan's work by CLICKING HERE.
1. ECU has scored at least 24 points in each of its games but one this season. What makes the Pirates offense so good? Is the strength the passing game or the running game?
NS: The strength of the ECU offense begins with the pass attack and quarterback Shane Carden, but on days when the run game has suffered or lead receiver Justin Hardy can't elude double coverage, it's become stagnant. The sky is the limit for this offense when it moves fast – during the team's three-game road swing the Pirates ran nearly 300 plays. Injuries and suspensions have hurt at receiver, but the depth has proven to be talented.
2. What kind of offense do the Pirates feature: pro-style, spread? How mobile is quarterback Shane Carden?
NS: This is a classic spread offense, though coordinator Lincoln Riley has steadily implemented more balanced looks in the run game and has tried to develop a two-back system. With Carden under center, though, the Pirates were meant to be a spread attack with lots of underneath routes and screens mixed in with the longer passes. Carden is very mobile and is among the team leaders in rushing TDs.
3. What kind of defense does ECU run and what do they do best?
NS: The secondary has been retooled under first-year coordinator Rick Smith, but ECU has largely stuck with the setup of its veteran 3-4 front seven. The ECU pass rush has improved as the secondary has become more reliable, though teams will still try to test the Pirates' corners on deep routes.
4. The Pirates have allowed 17 or less points in four of their seven games. In the other three games, opponents have been able to score on ECU, but the Pirates won two of those games. How did those three teams' offenses get to the ECU defense?
NS: The plan against the ECU defense is attacking the backfield. The Pirates have surged to third in the nation in stopping the run, so in essence they are forcing teams to beat them through the air. The three offenses with the most success got the Pirates into shootout type games with quick scores.
5. How do you see Saturday's game unfolding?
NS: ECU can struggle in getting that up-tempo offense moving sometimes on the road. At Tulane, the Pirates continued to stall and were forced into field goal attempts, and after three overtimes it cost them. A fast start by the Pirate offense will be the key for ECU, but if FIU can force ECU into the same kind of early frustration, anything can happen.
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