ECU spring game: Purple-Gold objective is depth development
After surrendering touchdowns on two of the first three offensive possessions, the Pirate defense turned up the intensity and bounced back to produce a solid performance as East Carolina completed its spring practice period with the Purple-Gold Game Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Fourth-year head coach Ruffin McNeil closed camp identifying added depth for a program that returns 16 of 22 positional starters, while finishing the first stage of philosophy and schematic changes on defense under new coordinator Rick Smith. Excluding penalty plays, the Pirates ran off 91 snaps with 56 through the air and 35 on the ground.
ECU's passing attack generated a 32-of-56, 316-yard and two touchdown effort from quarterbacks Shane Carden, Cody Keith, Kurt Benkert and Ethan Long. Defensively, the Pirates were credited with five sacks and seven tackles for lost yardage.
“I saw some positive plays again today," McNeill said. "I liked the way we interacted. We have some guys that are nicked and bruised right now that will be back on the roster by the time we start in the fall which will give us even more added depth. I thought it was good that we got some guys reps over the last three scrimmages that will really benefit them as well as our team.
"It’s good to get through this day without any serious injuries. I’m proud of the progress over these last 15 days and how hard we’ve worked. I think they’ve attacked each day like we asked them."
Although the offense surrendered just one turnover during the contest, it was slowed by six penalties - half of those for holding.
"That's one of the things that we’ve got to keep working on," McNeill explained. "Most teams would be pleased with the penalty situation, but we want to be perfect at that. I think that will be one of the keys to not beating ourselves. That’s a big deal."
Using a quick start that included completions on five-straight attempts, Carden ended the contest as the top passer by accounting for 137 yards and a touchdown - a 21-yard strike to senior outside receiver Lance Ray to cap his first possession of the day - while completing 14-of-22 passes. The junior returning starter wrapped up spring scrimmage action with a 53-of-70, 587-yard, six touchdown performance in three outings.
Keith was 12-of-20 for 104 yards, while Benkert, a true freshman playing in his first Purple-Gold contest, completed six-of-13 passes for 75 yards and booked the second aerial score of the day by connecting with sophomore outside receiver Antonio Cannon on a 32-yarder on his final drive of the afternoon.
Sophomore Cory Hunter was responsible for most of East Carolina's ground attack by racking up 61 yards on 15 carries in a thin backfield. The walk-on tallied the Pirates' only rushing score, reaching paydirt from one yard out on a fourth-and-one play late in the first half after the defense had made three consecutive stops inside the five-yard line.
For the second-straight week, junior inside receiver Danny Webster led all pass catchers with eight receptions for 93 yards. Senior tight end Justin Jones enjoyed his most productive day of the spring with five grabs for 47 yards, while Cannon (40 yards), sophomore inside receiver Cedric Thompson (27) and junior outside receiver John Worthy (24) had three catches each.
"I am pleased with our leadership offensively," McNeill said. "I thought Shane and the quarterbacks did a good job, as did Will Simmons on the offensive line. On defense, Derrell Johnson is one of the leaders and Jeremy Grove, Kyle Tudor and Lee Pegues are guys who have really done a great job. I was proud of them today and throughout spring."
Senior inside linebacker Kyle Tudor topped all tacklers with 10 while fellow linebackers Gabriel Woullard and Jeremy Grove added seven a piece. Woullard, Grove, Maurice Falls and Montese Overton combined to tally six of the seven TFLs and four of the five sack. Senior strong safety Chip Thompson netted the contest's only interception, stepping in front of a Carden pass early in the third quarter to halt an offensive drive inside the 40-yard line.
The Pirate defense surrendered only three plays of 20 or more yards and held the offense to just a seven-of-23 conversion rate on third down. After Hunter's scoring run on the third possession, Smith's unit stiffened and kept the offense out of the endzone on 11 consecutive drives before Cannon's touchdown catch.
"I think the defense has come along fine," McNeill added. "Rick is steadily installing his package and belief and I think the young men have adapted to him well. He's demanding quite a bit from them, and I think he and the coaches have blended well on that side of the ball as well."
In terms of special teams, senior Trent Tignor recorded three punts - averaging 48.3 yards per kick - while senior Brendan Rowland booted his only attempt 50 yards.
SPRING GAME STATISTICS
RUSHING: Cory Hunter (15-61, 1 TD), Jon Barnes-Smith (3-12), Quataye Smyre (2-8), Lee Pegues (1-7), Lance Ray (1-6), Zico Pasut (4-5), Marcus Simmons (3-2), Kurt Benkert (3-<-15>), Cody Keith (3-<-27>). Totals –– 35-59 (1.7 ypr), 1 TD.
PASSING: Shane Carden (22-14-1, 137 yards, 1 TD), Cody Keith (20-12-0, 104 yards), Kurt Benkert (13-6-0, 75 yards, 1 TD), Ethan Long (1-0-0, 0 yards). Totals –– 56-32-1, 316 yards, 2 TD (57.1%).
RECEIVING: Danny Webster (8-93), Justin Jones (5-47), Antonio Cannon (3-40, 1 TD), Cedric Thompson (3-27), John Worthy (3-24), Bryce Williams (2-21), Quataye Smyre (2-18), Cory Hunter (2-9), Lance Ray (1-21,1 TD), Justin Hardy (1-8), Reese Wiggins (1-4), Brandon Santiago (1-4). Totals –– 32-316, 2 TD
TACKLES: Kyle Tudor 10, Gabriel Woullard 7 (TFL/-8, sack/-8), Jeremy Grove 7 (TFL/-2), Domonique Lennon 6, Michael Dobson 4, Derrell Johnson 4, Chip Thompson 3 (PB, INT), Montese Overton 3 (2 TFL/-10, 1 sack/-9, PB), Adonis Armstrong 3 (PB), Terrell Stanley 3 (2 PB), Zeek Bigger 3, Jeton Beavers 3, Johnathon White 3, Detric Allen 2 (PB), Maurice Falls 2 (2TFL/ -19, 2 sacks/-19), Lamar Ivey 2, Brandon Williams 2, Doug Mayo-Tapp 2 (PB), Rocco Scarfone 2, Jake Geary 2 (PB), Frederick Presley 2, Ty Holmes 2, Donald Durham 1, Desi Brown 1, Josh Hawkins 1, DaShaun Amos 1, Dayon Pratt 1 (TFL/-7, sack/-7, 2 PB), Terry Williams 1 (PB), Lee Pegues 1, Reece Speight 1, Ty Anderson 1.
TOTAL OFFENSE/TOTAL DEFENSE: 91-375 (4.1 ypp)
INTERCEPTIONS: 1 (Chip Thompson)
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS: 7-23 (30.4%) – Keith (3-10), Carden (2-5), Benkert (2-7), Long (0-1)
FOURTH DOWN CONVERSIONS (when attempted): 2-2 (100.0%) – Keith (2-2)
PENALTIES: 6 (6/OFFENSE – 3 holding, 2 false start, 1 personal foul; 0/DEFENSE)
QUARTERBACK FIRST DOWN/SCORING CHART (DRIVES)
Shane Carden – 10 first downs, 1 TD (TD, punt, downs, interception)
Cody Keith – 8 first downs, 1 TD (punt, TD, downs, downs, punt)
Kurt Benkert – 3 first down (downs, downs, downs, downs, TD)
Ethan Long – 0 first downs (punt)
SCORING: TD –3, FG – 0, PATs (2-3)
Lance Ray 21-yard pass from Shane Carden (Warren Harvey PAT)
Cory Hunter 1-yard run (Warren Harvey PAT)
Antonio Cannon 32-yard pass from Kurt Benkert (Connor Torruella PAT/no good)
Trent Tignor (3-145 – 48.3 ypp)
Brendan Rowland (1-50 – 50.0 ypp)