Airing It Out: The Best Passing Duo In The American
The dust finally has settled after the massive, several-year-long conference shuffle. Houston finished fourth in the American Athletic Conference's inaugural season after switching over from Conference USA. Conference USA's latest gift to the American is the East Carolina Pirates, which averaged 40 points per game. Both teams have an elite quarterback-wide receiver tag team and they should be the favorites to lead the American in passing offense.
So, which of the two has the better duo in 2014?
The Case For East Carolina: Shane Carden And Justin Hardy
Since making the pilgrimage to ECU from Texas Tech with head coach Ruffin McNeill in 2010, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley has created one of the nation’s strongest passing attacks. The Pirates have thrown for at least 3,400 yards and 25 touchdowns in each season under Riley, a Mike Leach disciple employing similar strategy.
Shane Carden took over the starting quarterback gig in the 2012 season and never looked back. After a successful sophomore campaign, Carden emerged as one of the nation’s premiere signal callers his junior year, finishing seventh in passing yards (4,139), tied for ninth in touchdowns (33) and third in completion percentage (70.5) in 2013. He also led the team in rushing touchdowns with 10 and has 18 for his career. The Houston native enters his senior season primed to decimate David Garrard’s school record for career passing yards.
On the receiving end of 114 of Carden’s 549 throws was Justin Hardy. Hardy, a former walk-on who didn’t garner a single star from ESPN or Rivals coming out of high school, already has broken school records for career receiving yards (3,047) and touchdowns (25). Entering his senior season, he’ll need three catches to secure the career receptions record. Barring catastrophe or an unforeseen shift in Riley's offensive philosophy, that record should fall by halftime in the first game.
The Case For Houston: John O’Korn And Deontay Greenberry
Houston has long been home to some of the finest gun-slinging in the country. Andre Ware nabbed the university’s first and only Heisman Trophy in 1989. Case Keenum accumulated more than 19,000 passing yards during his 14 years quarterbacking the Cougars.
John O’Korn aims to be the next Cougars quarterback to rise to national prominence. Hailing from the legendary football factory St. Thomas Aquinas Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., O’Korn was thrust immediately into the starting role for the Cougars, leading the team to an 8-5 (5-3) record. O’Korn threw for more than 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions as a true freshman, but posted an underwhelming completion percentage (58.1). However, he displayed a strong arm and a knack for improvisation when pressured.
Deontay Greenberry led the American in receiving yards with 1,202 and was runner-up in touchdowns with 11 (Louisville’s DaVante Parker tallied 12, but he is the ACC’s nightmare now). Greenberry was highly touted out of high school and has lived up to those lofty expectations. He doesn’t possess top-end getaway speed, but has good size and reliable hands. Most importantly, he established a strong rapport with O’Korn as the two connected 82 times.
Carden and Hardy have the edge because of experience and the volume of catches, yards and touchdowns their playing relationship has produced. O’Korn and Greenberry had a wildly successful debut, but the ECU tandem connects on more passes for more yards. Hardy’s catch total and receiving yards actually increased in 2013 and there’s no evidence to suggest that the pair will slow down in 2014.