Head coach Ruffin McNeill and his team is now on a warpath for claiming the Conference-USA Championship during ECU's final season before departing for the American Athletic Conference.
Quarterback Shane Carden was at the forefront of ECU's most impressive offensive outing of the season. With the exception of DaShaun Amos' game-ending end-zone to end-zone pick six, Carden accounted for all of the team's touchdowns—five passing and an additional two one-yard sneaks for a total of seven scores.
"Shane is an all-conference player," said McNeill. "I think he proves it week in and week out. He keeps getting better. I'm proud of Shane's progress. They call him ‘Captain Carden' for a reason. He's out captain and our team believes in him and our staff believes in him. He has a great impact on our football team."
Carden isn't the only player on offense to show remarkable progress. True freshman wide receiver Isaiah Jones had a standout performance in Miami last week with nine grabs for 92 yards and a touchdown. Just when it seemed he and Carden had their chemistry down to a tee, they one-upped themselves.
"Isaiah just keeps getting better each week," said Carden. "He kind of reminds me of myself last year. I kind of came in and started playing each game and just got better and better. The way he was able to do that, he just understands this offense more and more each week. He understands what I'm looking for. He understands what the defense is giving us and what we want to take."
Jones finished Saturday with eight receptions for 104 yards and a pair of touchdowns. With all the receivers lost the Pirates have lost this season, Jones has stepped up in a big way.
"He's such a smart football player and he has great instinct," said McNeill. "When I watched him on video when we started recruiting him, he reminded me of deuce (Justin Hardy) because of how he attacks the ball. If you watch him, you'll see how he just attacks the ball like Justin does. Zay keeps improving week by week and I know he'll continue it."
The chemistry between receivers is often overlooked. Hardy, who broke Lance Lewis' school record for most career touchdown receptions, has impeccable chemistry with his inside receiver counterpart.
"Me and Isaiah are roommates," said Hardy. "He asks me questions and time he has one. He plays inside receiver, just like me. We basically do the same thing and, basically, he just wants to get better."
Looking at the 58 points ECU scored makes it easy to talk about the offense's performance, but the defense also had a solid game. Forcing turnovers has been a point of emphasis this season and Saturday was no different.
With Zeek Bigger's pick on Dane Evans' pass, the Pirates have recorded a takeaway in every game this season. McNeill called upon Bigger to step up and use his great hands to force some turnovers. Bigger prepared appropriately and responded nicely.
"Really, more film," said Bigger. "More watching the wide receiver. More watching the routes and working on my coverage. I've been doing real well on rushing defense. I've been making tackles, but now it's time to take it to the next level and work on my coverage—see what the wide receivers are doing, see what the quarterback is doing."
The entire defense adjusted well throughout the game. ECU's third down defense struggled against Tulsa in the first quarter. After only stopping Tulsa one of five times on third down in the first, the Pirates held the Golden Hurricane to only six of 15 throughout the remainder of the game.