Countdown to Kickoff: South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. — ECU (1-0) will face South Carolina (0-1) for the third time in four years Saturday night.

The East Carolina football team will encounter its first real test of the 2014 season when it travels to Williams-Brice Stadium to face No. 21 South Carolina under the lights.

The Pirates opened their season with a resounding 52-7 victory against Football Championship Subdivision opponent, North Carolina Central, while the Gamecocks were embarrassed at home, 52-28, by sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill and the Texas A&M Aggies last Thursday.

Saturday’s game in Columbia marks the beginning of the gauntlet for the Pirates, who will line up against Virginia Tech and North Carolina in the following two weeks.

South Carolina leads the head-to-head series against ECU 12-5 with victories in 2011 and 2012 that were decided by an average of 29 points. The last time the Gamecocks lost their first two games in a given year was their disastrous, winless season in 1999, which was also the same year ECU captured its last win in the series.

Senior quarterback Dylan Thompson made his first career start against the Pirates two years ago in Columbia, replacing inured starter Connor Shaw. In Shaw’s absence, Thompson had little problem moving the ball, passing for 330 yards and three touchdowns in route to a 48-10 South Carolina win.

“He’s a quarterback that has been developed,” fifth-year ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said of Thompson. “When Dylan played against us last time, media and fans didn’t know, but we knew he had size, understands the offense, was mobile and throws the ball with accuracy.”

Another previously unknown quarterback that emerged out of that game was Shane Carden, who appeared in the second half and has started every game for ECU since then.

Carden’s fellow classmate, wide receiver Justin Hardy, made his collegiate debut against South Carolina in the Pirates’ 2011 season opener in Charlotte and had successful outings in both his meetings with the Gamecocks — hauling in 19 catches combined for 202 yards and two touchdowns.

Now that they are both seniors who have already beaten two “Power Five” conference opponents in their careers and practically own every school passing and receiving record, Carden and Hardy understand that they are capable of beating top-notch programs and seem to even expect it.

“Because those guys have been around the program, understand our team thought and have been there, it helps to go in with a group of guys who know how to approach this week,” McNeill said. “It’s good to have some guys who have been through it and a staff that has been through some big-venue games.”

Similar to Texas A&M, ECU runs an up-tempo, spread offense that gets the ball out of the quarterback’s hand quickly and to the barrage of receivers the Pirates’ possess. After spending time watching the game tape, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley isn’t convinced he needs to do anything differently.

“What you do is what you do. They executed well and didn’t have any penalties and turnovers,” said Riley, who expects to see a different South Carolina team this weekend. “In this world, we’re so quick to jump to conclusions. I’d like to think our guys are mentally tough enough to know that we’re going into a tough environment against a good football team.”

Earlier in the week, South Carolina running back Mike Davis’ status for the game was uncertain with bruised ribs. Spurrier said Davis was “sort of doubtful” in his weekly teleconference Sunday and then changed his tone Tuesday by telling reporters he expected his prized tailback to play.

The only significant addition to ECU’s injury report was reserve cornerback Dashawn Benton, who is still listed as questionable for Saturday with a right knee injury. Both wide receiver DaQuan Barnes (back) and nose tackle Terry Williams (left knee) will miss their second consecutive games against the Gamecocks.

Television: ESPNU (Anish Shroff, Kelly Stouffer, Cara Capuano), Radio: Pirate IMG Sports Network (Jeff Charles, Kevin Monroe, Marty Feurer), Kickoff time: 7 p.m.

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