ECU offense adjusting with rotation of receivers

The (Greenville N.C.) Daily Reflector"October 18, 2013 

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East Carolina's Justin Hardy scores on UNC's Tre Boston after a six yard pass from Shane Carden on Sept. 28 in Chapel Hill.

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com

— Versatility is all the rage with East Carolina’s wide receivers these days, not that they have a choice.

The Pirates (4-2, 2-1 Conference USA) will play Southern Mississippi with even fewer receivers than they had against Tulane the week before, and that wasn’t many.

But the Pirates are proving many of the overused football sayings about the value of depth, because so far it’s been a smooth shift of gears for many who are suddenly playing a different role in the pass game.

Senior Reese Wiggins caught his first touchdown of the season during overtime at Tulane after moving to a new receiver role following a shift for freshman Isaiah Jones.

“Reese was a little bit more of a known commodity, and we knew he could bounce around just about anywhere, but to have a freshman (like Jones) do that, that’s not every day,” ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said of the son of former Pirate great Robert Jones. “He’s got a brain for the game, and he’s been around the game with his family and that shows and really helps him. He’s switched positions four times already and handled every one of them.”

With ECU missing six players who have made at least one reception this season, the lineup juggling has steadily increased.

Justin Hardy is the only receiver in the group projected to make his seventh start in seven games on Saturday.

“We’ve been fortunate that some of those younger guys have shown some versatility, and that’s given us a chance, but at the same time, that’s the value of this offense being in place for more than three years,” Riley said. “It’s set. The guys kind of coach each other. They understand not just what they’re doing but a little bit of what everybody is doing. If this had happened three years ago, we’d have been in trouble.”

Hardy – a 1,000-yard receiver last year as a sophomore – would have been the backbone of the receiving group anyway, but now that he’s the iron man of the bunch, he’s even more valuable.

Despite losing a cliffhanger at Tulane, Hardy unleashed a school-record 230 receiving yards on 18 catches. Repeating such performances is never easy, but Hardy said it’s always possible to find the same groove for weeks on end.

“Once you get clicking, it’s really hard to break that stride in anything,” said Hardy, who leads the Pirates with 57 receptions for 639 yards and three touchdowns. “You have hot streaks in basketball where players hit (shots) and they’re going to hit all day. Once you get hot in football, it’s the same thing basically. We practice all of those things, so we didn’t do anything different last Saturday that we don’t do in practice.”

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