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ECU hosts N.C. Central in 2014 season opener

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GREENVILLE, N.C. - East Carolina, which has made bowl appearances in seven of the last eight seasons, will open the new campaign under the direction of fifth-year head coach Ruffin McNeill when the Pirates battle North Carolina Central in a non-conference matchup at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

The contest against the Eagles will mark the fifth time in the last six years that ECU will open a season at home. The matchup will also represent the first of four consecutive non-league games on the Pirates' schedule, preceding tilts against South Carolina (Sept. 6), Virginia Tech (Sept. 13) and North Carolina (Sept. 20).

East Carolina Records and Streaks
  • Qualified for nine bowl appearances since 2000 (seven of the last eight years) ...
  • Has had at least eight wins in five of the last seven years ...
  • Has won 18 of the last 20 games (and 45 of 52) when scoring 30 or more points ...
  • Has won 26 of the last 27 games when converting third downs at 50% or higher ...
  • Has won 12 of the last 14 games when forcing two or more turnovers ...
  • Has won 14-straight games when gaining 200 or more rushing yards ...
  • Has won 11 of the last 13 home games ...
  • Has won four of the last five games vs. non-conference opponents ...
  • Has won five of the last six season openers ...
  • Has won eight of the last nine home openers ...
The Series
Saturday's contest will mark the first meeting (0-0) between East Carolina and North Carolina Central in the sport of football ... In fact, ECU will play one other "inaugural" game during the course of the 2014 campaign when it faces Connecticut on Thursday, Oct. 23.

East Carolina Against The FCS
The Pirates currently own a 22-game win streak and have recorded an all-time 22-1 record against programs that currently compete or competed on the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-AA) level when the game was played ... The lone setback, which occurred in the "first" contest, came against Eastern Kentucky (28-16) on Nov. 15, 1980 ... Among all of the Pirates' previous FCS opponents, Appalachian State (2-0), Georgia Southern (3-0), UCF (2-0), Southwest Texas State (1-0, now referred to as Texas State), have since made the transition to the FBS level.

Non-League Statistical Comparisons
In its four regular season non-conference contests last year, ECU averaged 39.8 points, 119.3 rushing yards, 314.0 passing yards and 433.3 total yards per game ... By comparison, the Pirates booked 40.8 ppg, 132.9 rypg, 340.2 pypg and 473.1 ypg averages in their eight conference tilts in 2013.

What's Back ... Productively Speaking
Off ensively, the Pirates return 34 percent of their rushing yards (615 of 1,821) and 100 percent of their passing yards (4,265 of 4,265), while on defense, East Carolina welcomes back 45 percent of its tackles (464 of 1,026) and 37.5 percent of its turnover production (9 of 24; 5/18 interceptions and 4/6 fumble recoveries) ... From a scoring standpoint, players who accounted for 372 of ECU's 522 points a year ago are on the 2014 roster (71 percent).

At Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium - 5-1 In 2013
East Carolina's all-time record at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium is 172-86-1 (.666) ... The Pirates opened the facility on Sept. 21, 1963 with a 20-10 win over Brian Piccolo and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in front of 17,000 fans and celebrated the stadium's 50th anniversary last fall ... Before a similar 5-1 mark in 2012, a 3-3 ledger in 2011 and a 4-2 clip in 2010, ECU won a combined 10 of 12 home matchups in 2009 (6-1) and 2008 (4-1) ... Overall, East Carolina has turned in 38 winning campaigns at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium since 1963.

The Pirate Nation - 7 Million Strong
East Carolina has always been able to claim plenty of hometown support, even more so when playing at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturdays during the fall - establishing itself as Conference USA's attendance leader on an annual basis (during its previous membership) ... In all, a total of 7,415,328 fans have seen the Pirates in action since 1963, and in the last five-plus years, ECU has averaged 46,093 (1,613,265/35 regular season games).

Reaching Another (Millionstone)
Since the completion of a 7,000-seat expansion project in 2010 that pushed Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium's capacity to 50,000, the Pirates have drawn 1,144,042 fans - cracking the one million mark last season year with a crowd of 50,096 that watched the Virginia Tech game on Sept. 14 ... ECU set back-to-back school records in total attendance and season average attendance in 2011, breaking `10 marks (297,987/49,665) with 300,069 and 50,012 figures in 2011.

Attendance Leaders
In addition to departing Conference USA as a six-time attendance champion - 2008 (42,016), 2009 (41,742), 2010 (49,665), 2011 (50,012), 2012 (47,013) and 2013 (43,985) - East Carolina also topped all non-AQ BCS Conference (now referred to as the "Group of Five") members in attendance the last two seasons ... Overall, ECU ranked 54th nationally in average attendance and 62nd in capacity percentage (88.52) a year ago.

Deja Vu In The American?
As ECU begins competition in the American Athletic Conference this fall, the Pirates should contend for top attendance honors there as well ... Excluding Louisville (52,914) and Rutgers (46,549), which both left the league after the 2013 campaign, UCF's mark of 42,084 "led" the AAC last fall.

Analyzing The 2014 Schedule
East Carolina's 2014 schedule consists of games against one conference champion (UCF/American), six bowl participants (South Carolina/W, Virginia Tech/L, North Carolina/W, Cincinnati/L, Tulane/L, UCF/W) and two programs ranked in the final top 25 polls - South Carolina (No. 4-4/AP and USA Today) and UCF (10-12).

U>We'll Take The Ball First
ECU has received the opening kickoff in 24-straight games - the longest current streak nationally (UCF/14 and Illinois/11 were second and third, respectively, before having its runs snapped last November).

Shutout-Free ... 206 And Counting
ECU will enter the NCCU game with an active streak of 206 games of not suffering a shutout - a school record (17 points at Rice in `06 surpassed the previous mark of 110 set from `71 to `81) ... The last time the Pirates were blanked was on Oct. 4, 1997 (56-0 at Syracuse) ... In terms of a national standing, ECU's 206-game run currently ranks ninth among all active FBS streaks and is the 20th-longest in the all-time annals.

First-Time Starters?
There could be as many as six first-time starters in East Carolina's lineup against North Carolina Central Saturday - three on the offensive side of the ball (OR Cam Worthy, LG Quincy McKinney and RT Dontae Levingston) and three more on defense (DE Fred Presley, SS Lamar Ivey, FS Domonique Lennon).

Keeping An Eye On Redshirt Removals
Ruffin McNeill's "play immediately" count is currently at 12 during his ECU head coaching tenure ... Five (5) players had their redshirts removed last season - ILB Devaris Brunson, OR Davon Grayson, IR Isaiah Jones, NT Demetri McGill and IR Jimmy Williams - to join a list of seven others beginning in 2010: 2010 (4) - DE Derrell Johnson, DB Damon Magazu, DE Lee Pegues, H Trent Tignor; 2011 (2) - IR Danny Webster, ILB Brandon Williams; 2012 (1) - OR Jabril Soloman.

Restoring Defensive Respect
The arrival of defensive coordinator Rick Smith certainly made a visible impact on that side of the ball for the Pirates in 2013 ... ECU stood among the nation's top units in a trio of major categories, including a Top 15 rank in rush defense.

Rick's Picks
In addition to notable improvement with the per-game averages, Rick Smith's leadership of the ECU defense - most notably his influence in the secondary - resulted in a return to national prominence as one of the top interception units on the FBS level ... The Pirates picked off a pass in 11 of 13 games (nine in the last five outings, two for TDs).

A Pirates' Life - To Pillage And Plunder
The Pirates have recorded a takeaway in 14 of the last 15 contests ... Additionally, East Carolina has created two or more turnovers in 19 of the last 32 contests ... Most recently, ECU forced 12 in the last five contests of the 2013 season, including three in the bowl win against Ohio ... ECU is 21-7 when it forces two or more turnovers in the McNeill era.

Notebooking Shane Carden
Although initially passed over for the starting position to open the 2012 season as a sophomore, Shane Carden took over the job prior to ECU's third game and has responded with 7,255 aerial yards and 56 TDs ... A closer look at Carden's career:
  • Statistically, rates as the top "returning" QB in the American Conference, closing junior season ranked among Top 20 FBS active career leaders in completion percentage (4th/68.6), completions per game (6th/24.4), total offense plays per game (8th/42.1), pass attempts per game (7th/35.6), pass yards per game (9th/268.7), total offense per game (15th/273.8) and TDs responsible for (19th/74) ...
  • Selected as the 2013 Conference USA Most Valuable Player ...
  • Has accounted for 75 of 110 offensive TDs (68%) as ECU's starter in just two years ...
  • Has converted 109-of-122 (89.3%) redzone opportunities while under center ...
  • Has thrown for over 400 yards on three occasions and authored seven contests over 350, 11 over 300 and 19 over 250 yards ...
  • First QB in school history to pass for over 4,000 yards in a season and one of only two to eclipse 3,000 in back-to-back campaigns ...
  • One of eight (8) returning FBS QBs who own their school's single-season passing record Garrett Grayson (Colorado State), Jared Goff (California), Connor Halliday (Washington State), Brett Hundley (UCLA), Chuckie Keeton (Utah State), Sean Mannion (Oregon State) and Brandon Doughty (Western Kentucky) ...
  • Established an ECU single-game passing record on three occasions - 439 vs. Marshall in 2012, 447 vs. Old Dominion and 480 vs. Tulane in 2013 ... His effort vs. the Monarchs included a 46-of-54 performance - the program's second-highest completion percentage ever (85.2) ...
  • Directly responsible for seven TDs vs. Tulsa (fi ve pass, two rush) and was 34-of-50 for 384 yards through the air ... Accounted for 11 scores vs. ACC members North Carolina (six; three/three) and NC State (fi ve; three/two) ...
  • Earned seven career league player-of-the-week awards, including four in 2013 for his efforts vs. Monarchs, Tar Heels, Golden Hurricane and Wolfpack, while also picking up an ESPN Helmet Sticker vs. UNC ...
  • Was second on the team with 10 ground TDs in 2013 after topping unit with eight a year earlier ...
  • Has equaled a single-game East Carolina record with five TD passes on four occasions - vs. Memphis (`12) and vs. Old Dominion, Tulsa and UAB (`13) ...
  • Has thrown a touchdown pass in 21 of his last 22 games ...
Hardy "Actively" Topping The Nation
Senior inside receiver Justin Hardy (114) is one of only three returning pass catchers nationally who posted 100 or more receptions in 2013, joining Duke's Jamison Crowder (108) and Marshall's Tommy Shuler (106) ... Hardy, who will open his final collegiate season with nine double-digit catch and nine triple-digit yardage outings, currently leads all active receivers in career receptions and receiving yards.

Two For 2 ... In 36-Straight
Justin Hardy has caught at least two passes in every career game he's played, a run that sits at 36-straight contests heading into the season opener ... The streak, which began with an 11-catch, 91-yard effort vs. South Carolina on Sept. 3, 2011, currently ranks first among all active receivers in 2014.

ECU's Touchdown Tandem
Seniors Shane Carden and Justin Hardy have connected for 18 touchdowns during their Pirate careers, which leads all active QB-WR tandems at the FBS level:

National RankQuarterbackReceiverSchoolTDs
1.Shane Carden Justin HardyEast Carolina18
2.Rakeem CatoTommy ShulerMarshall16
3.Bryce PettyAntwan GoodleyBaylor13

ECU's Carden-to-Hardy connection accounted for 1,284 yards in 2013, ranking second among returning QB-WR duos in FBS - trailing only Baylor's Petty-to-Goodley tandem (1,339 yards).

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