GREENVILLE — When Central Florida welcomes ECU on Thursday night for a critical Conference USA East Division clash, Knights coach George O’Leary expects to see yet another tough quarterback in Shane Carden.
That’s a compliment considering UCF already faced Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller of Ohio State.
Carden has completed 60 percent of his passes for 693 yards. He and Justin Hardy are developing into a formidable duo. Hardy ranks among the nation’s leaders in catches (34), yards (361) and touchdown catches (4). Last week Hardy had 11 catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.
“(Carden) is thorough; he manages the game well,” O’Leary said this week. “It’s going to be typical of what we’ve seen this year — no huddle and a lot of different variations as far as formations.”
The Knights (2-2 overall, 0-0 C-USA) have the luxury of being home for the third consecutive week. Like the Pirates, however, UCF already is in the late stages of a short week and is also coming off a tough game.
Missouri clipped the Knights 21-16 on a steamy night in Orlando, Fla., last Saturday.
“I understand we had a tough game Saturday, not just contact but the heat,” O’Leary said. “We’re in fairly good shape. I thought our guys hung in there pretty well as far as what’s taking place. You have to watch wearing them down in practice with a short week.”
Carden had his own weather issues last week.
He already had gotten up close and personal with the defenses of South Carolina, Southern Miss and North Carolina, but what he faced last Saturday against UTEP was altogether different.
The torrential rain that fell during the second half of the Pirates’ 28-18 victory was very likely a first for many inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, but the experience the sophomore garnered was likely the most valuable he’s gotten yet.
In the worst conditions imaginable, Carden overcame three interceptions by running for two touchdowns on hit Hardy for a 3-yard score. Carden thinks frequent wet weather helped it happen.
“We’ve practiced in rain a lot, especially this year,” said Carden, who threw for 258 yards and rushed for 62 against the Miners. “We’ve had a rain delay at our practice where we had to come in and sit around for an hour, and we had to come back out practice hard. I think that helped us a great amount.”
Carden’s pair of rush scores were the product of good decisions and good blocking, but they were also aided by the monster game of running back Vintavious Cooper.
The transfer back unleashed 151 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, and Carden knows his running lanes were made wider by Cooper.
“That’s the best I’ve seen him run and he did a great job,” Carden said of Cooper. “When he’s running the ball like that, it opens things up in the passing game. When the passing game gets going, that helps out the running game again. We just fed off each other, and that’s what we’ve got to do again this week and the rest of the season.”
In the first quarter, Carden’s number was called from the 6-yard line and he charged straight up the middle and into the end zone to tie the game 7-7. After Carden’s toss to Hardy put the Pirates in the lead just before halftime, the QB faked a handoff to Cooper before rumbling into the end zone from the 8 late in the third to make it 21-10 Pirates.
“Those are just routine plays,” Carden said. “With Cooper running the ball that hard, they really start keying on him, and when I see that it’s just an easy read for me. The receivers blocked great outside.
“I just did my job, did the routine play.”