East Carolina

ECU still has hopes for an AAC title

ECU quarterback Shane Carden is sacked by Temple’s Brandon Chudnoff at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
ECU quarterback Shane Carden is sacked by Temple’s Brandon Chudnoff at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Getty Images

Rain, wind and cool temperatures combined with an opportunistic Temple defense to crush East Carolina’s New Year’s Day bowl hopes its last time out, as the Pirates lost five fumbles in their 20-10 loss.

While dreams of playing in a premier bowl took a hit, East Carolina (6-2, 3-1) remains in the running for the American Athletic Conference title. The Pirates will play at Cincinnati (5-3, 3-1) on Thursday in a game with temperatures ranging from 25 to 35 degrees. It will be a far cry from the sunny, 65-degree weather Monday in Greenville.

Scheming for the Bearcats’ high-octane offense is one thing, preparing for another cold-weather game is another.

“We can’t practice in a refrigerator,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said.

“ You have to just go with it. Can you prepare for it? We have gear for it. But, (Cincinnati) will play in the same weather, too. No excuses. No complaints.”

Temple had to play in the same weather as the Pirates, too (a driving rainstorm), but the Owls did not commit a turnover.

Against the Owls, running back Breon Allen, the Pirates’ leading rusher, fumbled on the first two possessions, with the second one returned for a touchdown.

On Monday, McNeill stood by his running back.

“He was disappointed. (The players) care about the team,” McNeill said. “ Breon is a kid that absolutely loves playing. He loves wearing the purple and gold and loves playing here. So it’s more of an uplift (approach). He’ll catch a lot of negativity from a lot of other places, but not from me. Breon has done a lot of positive things for East Carolina University.”

The Pirates own a 12-5 record against the Bearcats, who like East Carolina, had a bye this past weekend.

Offense aplenty: East Carolina and Cincinnati rank first and second, respectively, in the conference in scoring. The Pirates average 35.9 points and the Bearcats 34.8 points.

Both teams are led by dynamic quarterbacks who can sling the football and run with it when need be.

East Carolina seniorShane Carden is the nation’s third-leading passer, averaging 348.9 yards per game. Bearcats sophomore Gunner Kiel, a Notre Dame transfer, is 26th with 256.1 yards per contest.

Kiel has been battling rib injuries for a better part of the season, and he threw one pass against Tulane before being pulled in favor of senior Munchie Legaux, who threw for three touchdowns in a 38-14 victory in the Bearcats’ last game.

Kiel and Carden “have quick releases and are mobile,” McNeill said. “And there’s Munchie, it’s not just Kiel. All three quarterbacks understand what I call concepts, from coverage to route progression and play progression. Where to release the ball and when to release it, those kind of things.”

Carden has completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,791 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. Kiel has connected on 59.1 percent of his attempts for 2,049 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Injury report: Pirates receiver Trevon Brown and defensive end Demage Bailey both will be out Thursday night with knee injuries.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer