Back in August, Ruffin McNeill was persistently showered with questions about his running back situation.
How do you replace Vintavious Cooper? Who will be the featured back? Can a running back by committee be effective?
McNeill, the Pirates’ fifth-year coach, just let the questions wash over him.
East Carolina rushed for 208 yards in its season opener against N.C. Central, but followed with a 132-yard performance against South Carolina and a 75-yard outing vs. Virginia Tech.
East Carolina (3-1, 0-0 AAC) used four running backs to scorch rival North Carolina 70-41 and take its fourth straight victory over an ACC opponent.
The quartet rushed for 343 yards, the most during the McNeill era, and the highest total since the Pirates ran for 491 yards against Memphis in 2007.
East Carolina is back in the Associated Press Poll at No. 23, giving the Pirates their first ranking since 2008.
Leading the way was senior running back Breon Allen, who gained a personal-best 211 yards and scored two touchdowns.
“I was very proud of Breon,” McNeill said. “I get a lot of questions about running back by committee, but Breon’s been the biggest advocate. They really care about one another. They love playing with, and for, one another … I bet Breon will give first credit to the offensive line.”
McNeill was right.
“We pounded them up front. It all starts up front,” Allen said. “(Offensive linemen) J.T. Boyd, Dontae Livingston, Ike Harris, Taylor Hudson and Quincy McKinney, compliments go to them. … Without them I wouldn’t have any yards.”
Allen scored his first touchdown on an 11-yard run in the first quarter, then ripped off a critical 44-yard TD run in the second on a third-and-29 situation.
Perhaps Allen’s top highlight came in the third quarter when he dashed 84 yards to the UNC 2to set up Shane Carden’s sneak for a score.
In true Allen fashion, he stiff-armed the praise for that run.
“Nah, I’m going to give credit to (strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors) because he got my legs strong enough to do that,” Allen said.
While Allen was by far the most productive back on Saturday, the rest of the quartet did not wilt.
Chris Hairston gained 11.6 yards per carry to accrue 58 yards and freshmen Anthony Scott (42 yards) and Marquez Grayson (42) combined for 84 yards.
The ground attack provided the perfect balance to a Pirates passing game, led by Carden’s 438-yard, four-touchdown performance.
“The offense was rolling tonight,” Carden said. “We got the running game going and that’s what opened up the passing game.”
And that’s could could be the key to a very bright season.