That attention on Hardy is giving young wideouts like Jones and true freshman Trevon Brown chances to make plays in a prolific offense. And their emergence has given the Pirates more options downfield heading into Thursday's home game with Connecticut.
''Justin opens the doors up for a lot of other guys,'' said Jones, a sophomore. ''When you have such a dynamic player on your team and defenses are scheming to stop him and double-teaming, that automatically means that you've got a 1-on-1 advantage. It doesn't get any better than that.''
Hardy, a fifth-year senior, has long been the top receiver for the Pirates (5-1, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) and is on pace to set the career record for most receptions in bowl subdivision history.
But inside receivers coach Donnie Kirkpatrick said the Pirates have done a better job this season of getting more players involved when Hardy is covered.
Jones was the team's second-leading receiver as a freshman, and is again second to Hardy this year with 42 catches for 478 yards and four touchdowns. Brown, who enrolled in January, has 13 catches for 249 yards and four scores of his own - including a 55-yarder in the opening minute of the 70-41 win against North Carolina.
Add former junior college player Cam Worthy into the mix, and the Pirates have four players with at least one 100-yard receiving game halfway through the season.
''We've been better, more consistent, because we've really tried to spread the ball out,'' Kirkpatrick said. ''They're having to practice hard because you can't afford not to have a good week of practice or you won't get as involved in the game plan, too.''
East Carolina has the nation's fourth-ranked passing offense (371.3 yards) and is one of 12 teams nationally averaging at least 41 points. They've also tallied 1,851 total yards in the past three games, a program record.
''I think it's just added another aspect that people have to defend,'' offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. ''And I think it's changed the way people have played us and given Hardy and some of our guys more 1-on-1 opportunities where maybe at times they didn't have as many in the past.''
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