Published: September 5, 2013 Updated 2 hours ago
By Brian Haines — Correspondent
GREENVILLE — Ask and you shall receive. After a week of fielding questions about their running game, pass defense and pass rush the East Carolina Pirates proved they could do all three during Thursday night’s 31-13 thrashing of Florida Atlantic.
Decked out in its new, all-black alternate jerseys, East Carolina left the Owls offense looking black and blue as it picked off two passes, racked up six sacks and created three turnovers in Florida Atlantic’s first Conference USA contest.
“The (defense) did a good job,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. “We made some adjustments and I was proud how our kids embraced them and did a good job of taking it from the practice field to the game field.”
Last week, the Pirates defense looked shaky, allowing 370passing yards during a 52-38 victory over Football Champion Subdivision member Old Dominion and failed to put heat on quarterback Taylor Heinicke.
Thursday night, East Carolina (2-0, 1-0) pressured quarterbacks Jaquez Johnson and Greg Hankerson early and often.
Johnson, a sophomore, started and hit on nine of his 14 pass attempts for 62 yards, and Hankerson, a freshman, tallied 116 yards on 14-for-26 passing. Each was picked off once.
Defensive end Lee Pegues wreaked havoc, amassing three sacks, and three other Pirates recorded one.
The Pirates ran for 34 yards Saturday, but their rushing attack was resurrected thanks to a stellar effort from running back Vintavious Cooper, who galloped for a game-high 95 yards and a score, and he caught a team-high five passes for 49 yards.
“That’s just ’Tay Cooper,” McNeill said. “He’s an all-around football player. He has great hands and he can run the ball well. The one thing he had to work on was protection and he’s done a good job of that.”
Cooper was a force from the opening drive, carrying the ball four times for 22 yards and turning a shovel pass into a 13-yard game to set up the first touchdown.
With the ball at the 18, Shane Carden connected with freshman Davon Grayson on slant to go ahead 7-0.
“We talked with the offensive line all week about establishing our physicality up front and starting out fast,” Cooper said. “We can’t come in to a game slow, especially running the ball. We wanted to establish the run at the beginning of the game and set things up off of that.”
Carden, who was named the C-USA Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 447 yards Saturday, was hot again with an efficient 17-for-25 performance for 191 yards and two scores during three quarters.
Florida Atlantic cut its deficit to 7-6 early in the second quarter after field goals of 44 and 46 yards by Mitch Anderson. However, the Pirates put the upset bid to sleep by ripping off 24 unanswered points.
An 85-yard kickoff return by Lance Ray led to a 1-yard touchdown pass from Carden to Hardy at the 10-minute, 34-second mark in the second.
Maurice Falls picked off Hankerson’s first pass of the game in the right flat and returned it 18 yards to give the offense possession at the Owls 12. Three plays later Cooper squirted in the end zone from 7 yards to increase the lead to 21-6.
The East Carolina defense paved the way for points again during the third when sophomore cornerback Joshua Hawkins stepped in front of a Johnson pass and took it 5 yards to give the Pirates the ball at the Florida Atlantic 26, which led to a Warren Harvey 22-yard field goal.
The Pirates extended their lead to 31-6 near the end of the third as Carden led the team on an 11-play, 67-yard drive that ended with sophomore running back Chris Hairston scoring his first touchdown from 4 yards.
Florida Atlantic scored its final touchdown when Duke Williams pulled in a 2-yard pass from Hankerson with 1:03 left in the fourth.
ECU—D.Grayson 18 pass from Carden (Harvey kick), 10:30. FAU—FG Anderson 44, 3:07.
FAU—FG Anderson 46, 11:55. ECU—Hardy 1 pass from Carden (Harvey kick), 10:35. ECU—Cooper 7 run (Harvey kick), 9:13.
ECU—FG Harvey 22, 10:12. ECU—Hairston 4 run (Harvey kick), :46.
FAU—Dukes 2 pass from Hankerson (Anderson kick), 1:03.
Att.—37,533 (at East Carolina).
|Time of Possession||34:03||25:57|
RUSHING—FAU, Wallace 10-44, J.Johnson 12-39, M.Jackson 4-8, Warren 2-7, Hankerson 5-7, Juste 1-(minus 1). East Carolina, Cooper 20-95, Hunter 3-11, Hairston 5-8, Carden 6-(minus 4).
PASSING—FAU, Hankerson 14-26-1-116, J.Johnson 9-14-1-62. East Carolina, Carden 17-25-0-191, Keith 3-5-0-11.
RECEIVING—FAU, Dukes 6-36, McKinney 5-38, Wallace 4-12, Stoshak 2-63, Warren 2-14, Juste 2-2, Dorvilus 1-9, Deleon 1-4. East Carolina, Cooper 5-49, Hardy 4-36, D.Grayson 2-29, I.Jones 2-16, Hunter 2-9, Hairston 1-18, Wiggins 1-16, Worthy 1-15, Ray 1-10, Webster 1-4.