October 07, 2014

Last season, Shane Carden laid the groundwork for his legacy. He threw for 33 touchdowns and 4,139 yards - seventh-most in the FBS - while leading East Carolina to a 10-win campaign en route to Conference USA MVP honors.

Now as a senior, he's setting an even more impressive pace in a new league.

With Carden ranking fourth nationally with 375.8 passing yards per game, the No. 19 Pirates are fourth in total offense going into their first American Athletic Conference road game Saturday against South Florida.

Carden completed 31 of 41 passes for 410 yards in East Carolina's AAC debut last Saturday in a 45-24 victory over SMU, surpassing David Garrard's career total of 9,029 yards to become the all-time leading passer in school history.

"He exudes and exemplifies what we want here," coach Ruffin McNeill said.

East Carolina (4-1, 1-0) and South Florida (2-3, 1-0) have previously played as conference opponents, from 2002-04 when both programs were C-USA members. The former rivalry proved one-sided - the Pirates have never defeated the Bulls in four tries. The teams last matched up in the 2006 PapaJohn's.com Bowl, a game South Florida won 24-7.

"We don't talk about the past because it's irrelevant," McNeill said. "We can't control what happened in the past. We talk about ourselves and what we have to do to get better."

The Bulls, however, also carry a historical disadvantage into Saturday's game. They have dropped their last seven games against ranked opponents, dating to 2011 when they knocked off No. 16 Notre Dame. South Florida did give a scare to then-No. 19 Wisconsin its last time out before losing 27-10 on Sept. 27, though the Badgers have since fallen out of the poll.

The Pirates moved into the Top 25 after a 70-41 win over North Carolina on Sept. 20, a game in which the offense amassed 789 total yards - the 10th-best single-game FBS total since 2009. Before this year, East Carolina had not been ranked since 2008.

That season produced a Conference USA title. Now, they're part of the AAC, and Carden and the Pirates appear to be the early favorites to win it behind an offense averaging 43.6 points and 583.0 total yards.

"You see a three-year starter at QB, and then you have some veteran guys he's throwing the football to," South Florida coach Willie Taggart said. "They play with confidence."

Carden's top targets are Justin Hardy and Isaiah Jones, who have combined for 75 catches and 932 yards with nine touchdowns. Hardy had three TDs and 120 yards last weekend while Jones had 130 and scored for the third consecutive game.

That potent Pirates offense overshadows the success of their run defense, which allows 106.4 rushing yards per game to rank 17th in the FBS. Three of their five opponents have averaged less than 2.9 yards per carry.

That unit could be tested Saturday against South Florida freshman Marlon Mack, who rushed for 275 yards and four touchdowns against Western Carolina in the season opener.

"He really runs the ball well," McNeill said of Mack. "They can line up, get toe-to-toe, pound you and also try to spread the ball a little bit. We'll see some big sets."

South Florida - and struggling quarterback Mike White - should benefit from the return of senior wideout Andre Davis, who missed the last four games with a bruised sternum. He led the Bulls in receiving each of the past two seasons.

South Florida has lost three of their last four games, averaging just 233.0 yards of offense.

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