Vintavious Cooper entered the game leading the team in rushing on limited carries. It was clear that the team wanted to get him more involved. When Reggie Bullock was knocked out of the game with concussion-like symptoms on The Opening kickoff it was Cooper's time to prove his worth, and he did just that. Before the game against UTEP began, Cooper had 28 carries for 153 yards on the season. Against the Miners he added 23 more carries for an additional 151 yards and a touchdown. Add that to his four catches for 52 yards and its clear to say that Cooper had a break out game. His 203 all-purpose yards led the team, as no other player had over 100. Cooper's 24-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was the first touchdown by an ECU running back this season. Quarterback's Shane Carden (3) and Rio Johnson (1) recorded the team's only rushing scores this season. Cooper played quarterback in junior college. Coincidence? I think not.
Carden's intangibles shine
I gave Carden some flack last week for not putting up the necessary stats needed to fuel ECU's offense. He certainly responded. Carden went 28-40 for 258 yards with a touchdown and 3 INTs, and added nine carries for 63 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. We will get to the picks later but for now lets focus on what he did right. Carden proved in this game that he has the intangibles to be a successful quarterback. When UTEP took a 7-0 lead, he drove the offense right down the field to tie the game. When they scored again, he did the same (until the game was called for the weather delay). He responded well to both pressure and adversity. He also proved he has the grit and toughness to handle himself on the field. Carden never took the easy way out. He stepped up and sacrificed his body to deliver passes. He took shots. When running, he always fought for the extra yards. Carden is a gamer, and really took on the leadership role. He stood tall in the pocket, lowered his shoulder on the run, and carried this team to victory.
The Pirates made turnovers count
The common coaching analogy is the team with fewer turnovers wins the game. But what about in a game where both teams turned the ball over three times? Then it comes down to which team was able to force turnovers when the game was on the line, and ECU was certainly able to do that. UTEP's three picks were due to errors in Carden's mechanics. He would throw the ball of his back foot to a receiver in coverage and the defensive backs would make a play. For Carden, that can be fixed (but that's beside the point). The Miners had two interceptions on back-to-back defensive drives and both ended in punts when UTEP trailed 14-10. Points were critical at that point in the game. UTEP's third interception also didn't end in any points, but instead in an ECU interception. When ECU forced turnovers, they dictated the game. All three of the Pirates turnovers came in the fourth quarter, that speaks for itself. The first stopped the Miners from entering the red zone when they were only down 11. The second resulted in Cooper's rushing touchdown. After UTEP ran the kickoff back for a touchdown, successfully converted a 2-pt conversion, and recovered an onside kick, the Pirates recorded their third turnover to end the game.
All in all, an impressive win in Dowdy-Ficklen. The Pirates (3-2, 2-0) proved that they could very well make a run at the conference title, and are gaining steam at a crucial time. The Pirates have a short week this week as they travel to play UCF this upcoming Thursday night. As the two teams fighting for dominance of the Conference USA – East division, the winner of this game could have the inside track to playing for a conference title.