What We've Learned: Marshall

There were plenty of negatives to take out of yesterday's loss, but still some reason to stay positive for ECU.

Aside from seeing East Carolina's (9-3, 6-2 Conference-USA) conference championship dreams evaporate in Huntington, W.Va., we learned the Pirates have several real concerns going into bowl season.

Friday's lop-sided loss was a culmination of each of ECU's weaknesses being exposed at the absolute worst time.

As much as first-year defensive coordinator Rick Smith's presence has been felt in 2013, the Pirates have failed to get off the field on third down. Marshall gained first-down yardage on 10 of its 14 third-down attempts, but this has been a year-long problem. ECU has surrendered conversions on 47 percent of third-down plays this season.

Although the Pirates lost seven receivers due to injuries, suspensions and ineligibilities since the spring, they have not seen a considerable drop-off in productivity up until their regular season finale. This is due in large part to the emergence of freshman Isaiah Jones, who hauled in nine receptions for 123 yards against Marshall.

The deterioration of ECU's receiving corps was evident on Friday. There were numerous dropped passes throughout the game; many of them occurring in important spots.

Granted, it was the coldest playing conditions ECU has played in and quarterback Shane Carden struggled passing the ball – he completed just 29 of his 52 throws with three interceptions and no touchdowns – but nobody stepped up, outside of Justin Hardy and Jones. Outside of those two, only three receivers caught passes. The trio of Bryce Williams, Lance Ray and Cam Worthy combined for just three receptions and 45 yards.

This is not a season killer, though. In fact, it's far from it.

ECU still has a chance to capture a double-figure win season for just the second time in school history and break its recent bowl slump. Its last bowl win was the 2007 Hawaii Bowl and since then the Pirates have lost four consecutive appearances, including two under coach Ruffin McNeill.

Also, the program has heightened its visibility from an in-state standpoint. ECU's wins against N.C. State and North Carolina mark the first time that has happened in program history in a single season. Outside of the benefits of holding bragging rights, the impact of defeating each of those teams in their stadiums is immeasurable in terms of recruiting.

If anything, we've seen exponential growth from McNeill's clubs from year-to-year. The 2013 season is no exception coming off an 8-5 campaign. And even though ECU's closed its tenure in C-USA empty-handed, it has a core in place that stacks up nicely on paper in the American Athletic Conference next season.

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