Keys To Victory: ECU versus FAU

East Carolina blacks out Dowdy-Ficklen as Florida Atlantic visits for the Conference-USA opener.


1. Improve the running game: It wasn't so much that ECU's rushing game was bad on Saturday, but rather the Pirates found much more success in the air. The Monarchs defense used blitzing to hold star running back Vintavious Cooper to 12 carries for a mere 38 yards. To improve the running game, ECU's offensive line has to get up the field and make blocks and Cooper has to be allowed to run on the outside where he can use his smaller size and his speed to make plays.

2. Don't take so many penalties: ECU took nine penalties for 85 yards on Saturday. Head coach Ruffin McNeill noted in his weekly press conference how it took the Pirates two or three games last season to rack up nine penalties. Obviously, some penalties will happen regardless. However, ECU can forgo giving up yards on fundamental penalties such as late hits.

3. True freshmen continue to stand out: Combining for four touchdowns, freshmen Davon Grayson and Isaiah Jones couldn't have hoped for a better debut. The most notable play for the duo was likely a scrambling Shane Carden finding Grayson in the endzone late in the second quarter to send the Pirates into halftime with the lead. If these two receivers can continue to step up in big ways, look for ECU to claim a win in its conference opener.


1. Shut down the running game: Last week, ODU's defense effectively halted Carden, Cooper and company every time they carried the ball. By taking away running weapons like Cooper and Cory Hunter, the Owls will cut off half of ECU's dual-threat offense. While that's only one facet of ECU's offense, FAU allowed Miami to run for 303 of its 503 yards of offense en route to a 34-6 loss.

2. Utilize speed in the secondary: ODU was able to, for the most part, take away ECU's running game. Still, the Pirates managed to put up 52 points. Carden connected with wide receiver Justin Hardy 16 times for 191 yards and the team amassed 447 passing yards and five touchdowns. The Owls have more speed in their secondary than ODU did. Using that speed will be key if they want to keep up with the likes of Hardy and Grayson and make sure ECU doesn't find sure-fire success in the air again.

3. Senior wide receiver Daniel McKinney has a strong return: After being suspended for the season opener, McKinney looks to play his first game of the season versus ECU on Thursday. McKinney's strongest performance last season was a seven-reception, 90-yard effort against Florida International. If ECU's secondary doesn't improve much from Saturday's game, having McKinney back on the squad could help the Owls move the ball down the field.

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