October 20, 2014

Shane Carden and East Carolina are looking to get back to business following their off week.

Thursday night's home matchup against lowly Connecticut should help the No. 18 and heavily favored Pirates pick up where they left off.

East Carolina (5-1, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) is off to its best start since opening 7-1 in 1999, with its only loss coming 33-23 at then-No. 21 South Carolina on Sept. 6. The Pirates have won their last four games, including a come-from-behind 28-17 victory at South Florida on Oct. 11.

Carden orchestrated three long touchdown drives as East Carolina outscored the Bulls 21-0 in the second half. The Pirates didn't make it easy on themselves with 12 penalties for 148 yards.

"In this (league), we know we're going to have to overcome some adversity," coach Ruffin McNeill said. "We know we're going to have to persevere in some things, mistakes that we may make. To do that, it takes a strong character within your team."

Carden finished 24 of 33 for a season-low 250 yards with a TD and an interception, but the Pirates got a big boost from the ground game. Breon Allen accounted for 124 of the team's 231 rushing yards and was one of three different backs to find the end zone.

"They were giving us the run game, and I think we have a pretty good run offense that gets overlooked by the passing game," Carden said. "We pass the ball a lot. But when we need to run the ball, we can run the ball pretty well."

The Pirates aren't likely to be in for nearly as tough a challenge against Connecticut (1-5, 0-3), which is averaging 12.8 points to rank 124th out of 125 FBS teams. East Carolina, meanwhile, is tied for 11th with 41.0 per game thanks largely to Carden.

The fifth-year senior is fifth in the country with 354.8 passing yards per game. He's compiled a passer rating of 154.6 while throwing for 16 TDs and just four interceptions.

"He is outstanding. He is one of the best, most productive players in the country," Huskies coach Bob Diaco said of Carden. "One of the most productive players in their history and he has some very talented players to get the ball to."

Diaco was referring to Pirates wideouts Justin Hardy and Isaiah Jones, who have combined for 89 catches, 1,071 yards and nine scores.

The Huskies, who were also idle last week, are looking to avoid a fifth consecutive defeat after an ugly 12-3 loss at Tulane on Oct. 11. Chandler Whitmer had another quiet game with 141 passing yards as Connecticut managed 217 overall.

"I've said this ad nauseam, we are focused on ourselves and the things that we need to do in getting better, each player and each coach getting better every day," Diaco said. "If it doesn't necessarily fit into the opponent but if it needs to be done and coached and taught right now, then we are doing it."

Despite their struggles, the Huskies know they have a chance to make up for it Thursday. Connecticut, though, has dropped five of six against Top 25 opponents since their 2011 Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma, including each of last year's three contests by an average of 23.0 points.

"What a great opportunity and a fun opportunity, you got to be looking forward to these moments," Diaco said. "This is why you put your pads on and come to work to have these exciting chances."

This marks the first meeting between these schools.

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