ECU And Marshall Play For The East Title
By Dan Harralson
The battle for the East Division is finally here. East Carolina will travel to Marshall on Friday for a much-anticipated showdown to determine which team will represent the division in Conference USA's championship game.
ECU and Marshall were the favorites in the East and the conference all offseason and throughout the season. The teams have the two best quarterbacks in the conference in Shane Carden and Rakeem Cato, respectively.
ECU is coming off a 42-28 victory over in-state foe North Carolina State. The sound victory over the Wolfpack puts the Pirates on a five-game winning streak. ECU has two losses this season by a combined eight points (15-10 vs. Virginia Tech and 36-33 vs. Tulane in OT).
Marshall enters Friday's contest with three defeats after falling to Ohio, Virginia Tech and Middle Tennessee State. The Thundering Herd have not lost at home all season and have a seven-game home winning streak.
How Will Carden Fair Against Marshall's D?
Carden has been lights out this season, throwing for 3,575 yards and 32 touchdowns. One of the most impressive stats for the junior signal-caller is only throwing seven interceptions in 452 attempts. Carden already has thrown for 459 more yards than his 2012 campaign. Head coach Ruffin McNeill's uptempo philosophy helps account for the improved production offensively.
Carden is going up against the Marshall defense orchestrated by Chuckie Heater. Marshall currently holds the 24th-best defense in the nation and allows 198 yards through the air per game (14th nationally). ECU has the ability to run the ball when needed be behind running back Vintavious Cooper. Cooper needs 98 rushing yards to eclipse 1,000 on the season.
Count on wide receiver Justin Hardy to come up with a few key catches during the game as well.
How Will Cato Fair Against ECU's D?
The Pirates have a solid defense of their own. ECU enters Friday's showdown with the nation's 21st-best overall defense. Cato's arm has unleashed at nearly the same rate as Carden: He's thrown for 3,052 yards, 32 touchdowns seven interceptions.
ECU has the nation's 10th-best rush defense, which may allow the Pirates to drop an extra defender back to help defend Cato. Marshall's quarterback is not a runner, but he's not afraid to tuck the ball and run. He may need to run to keep the ECU's defense honest.
Cato will be going up against a pass defense that is giving up 243 yards per game and checks in at 85th nationally.
Both teams are good, well-coached and have two superior quarterbacks. Marshall has home-field advantage, but ECU's high-paced offensive style should propel the Pirates to victory and an appearance in the Conference USA championship game.
ECU 34, Marshall 28.