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Know the foe: East Carolina

Joey Knight, Times Staff Writer

Tuesday, October 7, 2014 5:45pm

A look at No. 22 East Carolina, which faces the Bulls on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium

Nickname: Pirates

Record: 4-1, 1-0 American Athletic Conference (Wins -- North Carolina Central, 52-7; No. 17 Virginia Tech, 28-21, No. 25 North Carolina, 70-41; SMU, 45-24; Loss -- No. 21 South Carolina, 33-23)

Coach: Ruffin McNeill (fifth season, 33-23; fifth season overall, 34-23*)

The breakdown: ECU enters Saturday's game ranked fourth nationally in both passing offense (395.6 ypg) and total offense (581.4 ypg), and ninth in scoring offense (43.6 ppg). ... Most French Quarter gumbos aren't seasoned as heavily as the Pirates, whose roster features 13 players -- seven on offense -- with at least 10 career starts. Not coincidentally, the team's most potent offensive tandem -- WR Justin Hardy and QB Shane "Cap'n" Carden -- has 67 combined starts. ... Carden (1,879 passing yards, 15 TDs, three INTs) will be seeking his fourth consecutive 400-yard passing effort Saturday. Meantime, Hardy (37 catches, 479 yards, five TDs), the nation's active leader in career catches (303) and yards (3,526), has caught at least two passes in all 41 college games in which he has played. ... While ECU's defense caught flak for allowing 24 points Saturday to an SMU team that totaled 12 in its first four contests, the Pirates still rank 17th nationally in run defense (106.4 ypg). In the secondary, junior CB Josh Hawkins has three of the team's five picks.

Odds and ends: With a victory, ECU will have as many victories in Florida (two) as USF since last December. The Pirates topped Ohio University 37-20 in the 2013 Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl. ... Pirates defensive coordinator Rick Smith served as Skip Holtz's secondary coach at USF from 2010-12. ... ECU is converting exactly half its third downs (31-for-62). ... The Pirates have recorded 25 plays of at least 25 yards.

Taggart's take: "They play with confidence. They know exactly what they're doing and when they're gonna do it. There's no hesitations or anything, and that's just from a veteran football team and a triggerman that's been around a while and understands all the ins and outs of their offense."

*-McNeill led Texas Tech to a bowl win as its interim coach in January 2010