Pirates Don't Understimate Bulls

GREENVILLE, N.C. — No. 19 ECU (4-1) is looking ahead to Saturday night's game at South Flordia and the Pirates are not taking the Bulls lightly.

Wins are hard to come by. A cliché that is universal to all sports at all levels. Yet when coaches and players say it every week, we have become numb to it and might even roll our eyes when we hear it.

But on a weekend where 11 of the Top 25 teams lost, any victory — especially one to the tune of three touchdowns like No. 19 East Carolina enjoyed against Southern Methodist Saturday — is appreciated, no matter whom the opponent is.

“People take winning for granted. It’s not,” said fifth-year ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill, who laughed telling reporters that he doesn’t watch football games during the season. “I don’t know how many teams lost or what happened (Saturday), but I know that we need to worry about what we can control.”

Similar to last week, the Pirates (4-1) are preparing for an opponent they are expected to beat convincingly. ECU opened as a two-touchdown favorite against South Florida.

However, this game will not be played in the Pirates’ comfy confines of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, rather in the cavernous home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raymond James Stadium, which can hold more than 65,000 fans.

There is little chance the stadium will be filled — the last time USF had more than 43,000 fans was in 2010 — and it might even be half-empty, but this presents a unique challenge for the Pirates, who have played well in some of college football’s most hostile environments at South Carolina and Virginia Tech, yet struggled in past years in low-energy environments.

“It’s definitely different,” ECU senior quarterback Shane Carden said. “You’ve got to bring your own energy to the sideline, get everyone riled up and get going.”

The most recent example of this kind of dilemma is ECU’s trouble with the Tulane Green Wave. In a NFL venue that was 90 percent empty, the Pirates uncharacteristically sputtered in the red-zone last season and lost a triple-overtime heart breaker, 36-33. The year before that, ECU escaped 28-23 against a team it far exceeded in talent.

Through the struggles, ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley thinks the Pirates have learned from those experiences and said that he does not expect the lack of environment to be a factor in Tampa.

“I think you always have to (bring energy internally) regardless of the stadium,” Riley told Inside ECU Sports. “You have to have energy and passion to play this game at a high level. We’re not baseball, we don’t get 50-something (games). We’re not basketball, we don’t get 30 or 40 games. We only get 12 and hopefully 13.

“If we can’t get excited about one of those, then we don’t deserve it.”

Carden will not have to search far for motivation against the Bulls. Last week, USF defensive lineman Eric Lee said there was “nothing special” about Carden and that “he’s like any other quarterback. He’s short, that’s … the only assessment,” according to a Tampa Bay Times article.

Carden has thrown 15 touchdowns to just three interceptions this season and his 1,879 passing yards are the sixth-most among quarterbacks across the country.

Lee’s coach, Willie Taggart, naturally tried to extinguish the inflammatory comments, saying, “I don’t think he was looking at the same East Carolina film,” but not before they ran its course on social media and to the Pirates.

Carden, however, decided to take the high road upon learning about what Lee had said about him.

“It is what it is,” he said, smiling. “People are going to talk before the game. We had somebody else talk before one of our games (likely referencing North Carolina’s Tim Scott) and we handled it on the field.”

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