GREENVILLE — It’s sort of like a change-up in baseball, a lob in basketball or a chip in golf or soccer.
When defenses face East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden’s slant passes and quick screens inside the red zone, they often get caught standing when he drops back and tosses a high, cascading fade pass to the corner of the end zone.
The one-on-one jump-ball usually created by the throw has been won by ECU receivers enough times this season to make the play a regular weapon in the Pirates’ arsenal.
“That’s a throw that might seem easy, but a lot of work goes into it,” Carden said of the fade route, which has been used on touchdown connections with junior Justin Hardy, sophomore Cam Worthy and freshman Davon Grayson this season.
It requires some touch to get the right height, the right distance and the right speed to create the battle for the ball at the other end, and Carden said success only happens with repetition.
“It’s a play we work on all the time, every day, from 5-yard outs to 10 and 15 yards, and as quarterbacks we’ll put a bucket out there in the end zone and you want to get enough air to make it go in the bucket,” Carden said. “That’s what we say, trying to see the bucket on the field, and you’re not throwing to a receiver, you’re throwing to a spot on the field.”
According to Carden, who leads Conference USA with 29 touchdown passes and who was named a semifinalist for the inaugural Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award on Tuesday, it requires good touch and good judgment.
“You want to see your matchup, and it goes a lot into game-planning and how they want to play your receivers at the goal line,” Carden said, noting that if defenses are sitting on the fade, he’ll try to beat them on a slant instead. “It’s game plan, knowing your receivers and what they’re good at, and knowing their corners.”
ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said the fade requires proper timing in terms of where and when it’s called.
As Riley and Carden have developed stronger trust, it’s getting called more and more, and Riley said the Pirates have recruited receivers with those kinds of plays in mind.
“If people are going to load it up and try to stop our run game and we’ve got one-on-one opportunities out there, we want to make them pay,” Riley said. “There are times when it’s called and times when Shane’s got an option to do it, and I’m comfortable enough with him now and confident that he’s going to make the right decisions.
“I think he’s got enough confidence right now in several of our receivers that he can put that thing up and they can go make plays with it. It’s a great thing if defenses are going to come and press you and play man-to-man coverage, you’ve got to go and win those things.”