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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 15, 3:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Roberts Stadium (36,000) -- Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Television: CBSSN. Home Record: ECU 1-0, USM 0-0. Away Record: ECU 0-1, USM 0-1. Neutral Record: ECU 0-0, USM 0-0. Conference Record: ECU 0-0, USM 0-0. Series Record: Southern Miss leads, 27-10.
GAME NOTES: Shane Carden is set to make his first career start for East Carolina when the Pirates open up their Conference USA season against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at Roberts Stadium on Saturday.
East Carolina is clearly aiming for a return to the postseason this year after coming up one win short of bowl eligibility in 2011. The Pirates began the 2012 campaign with a 35-13 victory over Appalachian State of the FCS before they were pulverized by the nationally-ranked South Carolina (48-10) last time out. Head coach Ruffin McNeill is 12-15 in his third season as the program's head coach. ECU has lost four of its last five league road games, but been on the winning end of 13 of its last 16 contests versus C-USA East Division opponents, overall.
Head coach Ellis Johnson has a tough act to follow at Southern Miss this season in his first year as the head coach. Johnson took over a program for Larry Fedora, a team that won the Conference USA Championship, had its first 10-win season since 1988, and picked up a 24-17 victory over Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl. Johnson's debut on the sidelines was not ideal as he watched his team fall, 49-20, to Nebraska on Sept. 1 in Lincoln. The Golden Eagles should be hungry after having extra time to reflect on their season-opening beating, sitting idle this past weekend.
The Pirates and Southern Miss have squared off 37 times previously, with the Golden Eagles holding a 27-10 advantage in the all-time series. USM is 11-4 against ECU since joining the C-USA. The Pirates will be out to avenge the 48-28 loss they experienced to Southern Miss last season. In the last six meetings between these programs, each side has won three games.
McNeill made the announcement Monday that Carden, a sophomore, would take over the starting quarterback duties for ECU this week.
Rio Johnson was the starter for the first two games, but he was relegated to the bench after throwing three interceptions against South Carolina. Carden replaced him in the third quarter against the Gamecocks, and after his first throw was picked off, he finished 12-of-18 for 140 yards with the team's lone touchdown.
While McNeill shuffled quarterbacks versus South Carolina, Justin Hardy caught eight passes for 111 yards. The running back tandem of Michael Dobson and Reggie Bullock should see more success and wider rushing lanes after being shut down by the Gamecocks.
On the other side of the ball, ECU needs to improve its pass defense drastically. The Pirates have given up 348.5 yards per game and five total touchdowns through the air in their first two games.
ECU has lacked a leader on the defensive side of the ball so far. Jeremy Grove is off to a slow start after finishing third in the C-USA in tackles last season as a redshirt freshman.
The Golden Eagles failed to live up to last season's impressive averages of 36.9 points and 461.4 yards per game in their opener. A drop off was expected to ensue when four-year starter Austin Davis graduated, but Southern Miss managed only 260 total yards of offense against Nebraska.
Backup quarterback Anthony Alford led the way in week one with 84 rushing yards on 15 carries in his first collegiate game while the starter, Chris Campbell, completed 6-of-12 attempts for 69 yards and his first career passing touchdown. Alford's strong performance earned him the starting job for this Saturday, but Campbell may see some action as he is the better passer of the two.
While USM's passing game was limited by Nebraska, so was its receivers. The speedy Tracy Lampley led the team despite being held to 27 yards on two catches. Lampley, Quentin Pierce, and Dominique Sullivan should both have much better performances against ECU's shaky secondary.
The running back duo of Desmond Johnson and Jeremy Hester struggled as Nebraska dominated the battle in the trenches. Both players will have more opportunities against their conference rival.
Defensively, Southern Miss had no answers for Taylor Martinez in its season opening loss. Martinez threw for 354 yards and five touchdowns, while Nebraska rushed for 278 yards. The Golden Eagles were very good at humbling opposing offenses last season and had averages of 20.8 points and 343 yards allowed per game, which ranked second and third in the C-USA, respectively.
Jamie Collins and Deron Wilson recorded 13 stops each to tie for the team's lead in the opener.
Carden will not be able to dominate the Golden Eagles in his first career start in the same manner as Taylor Martinez. Southern Miss has a noticeably weaker offensive line this season, but Alford's elusiveness will give him time to make plays and lead the Golden Eagles to their first win of the season and the Ellis Johnson era.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Southern Miss 35, East Carolina 24
09/12 11:18:20 ET