CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As a disciple of Mike Leach's "Air Raid" offense, Lincoln Riley knows all the intricacies in building a high-power offense.But Riley, East Carolina's 29-year-old offensive coordinator, used a new trick in bringing along first-year starting quarterback Shane Carden: thin out the playbook.With a little less to think about, the sophomore flourished, throwing for 308 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-7 rout of Memphis. He completed 25 of 39, didn't throw an interception and was named Conference USA's offensive player of the week.In his last three games, Carden has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 864 yards and seven touchdowns, most of his nine for the season.
Certainly, the degree of difficulty has decreased - Memphis' defense is not in the same atmosphere as that of South Carolina - but Carden is getting the hang of the college game. That's good news for East Carolina (4-3, 3-1 C-USA), but not necessarily for its next opponent, Alabama-Birmingham (1-5, 0-2)."I think the simplification of the offense starting last week allowed him to just react instead of having to overthink everything," said ECU coach Ruffin McNeil. "The game is starting to slow down for Shane and because of that he is starting to recognize and understand coverages."The next project: cultivating a dependable No. 2 receiver to complement Justin Hardy, keeping him out of double coverage. Hardy has 45 catches for 617 yards, which by itself is a league high. On a per-game basis, he is behind Marshall's Tommy Shuler, 93.7 to 88.1.Seven other Pirates have caught at least 10 passes, but only Andrew Bodenheimer has 20.nn
With two of its players receiving weekly C-USA honors, resurgent Houston (3-3, 2-0) returns to action tonight against suddenly struggling Southern Methodist (2-4, 1-1). Linebacker Phillip Steward has taken over leadership of the Cougars' defense, registering 13 tackles, 21/2 for loss and an interception in a 39-17 win last weekend over UAB. The senior is piling up player-of-the-year type numbers - he leads the league in tackles (72) and tackles for loss (121/2) and is second in sacks (61/2).He had 21/2 of the Cougars' eight sacks against UAB and intercepted the ninth pass of his career.Matt Hogan booted a C-USA record six field goals, with his 21 points breaking a school record for kick scoring. His long was 52 yards.Meanwhile, SMU is reeling from "snapping" Tulane's 15-game losing streak, 27-26. Coach June Jones faces the improbable specter of his team having the lowest passer efficiency rating, even below the "Mendoza Line" of 100. A league-high 11 interceptions will do that for you.Briefly
DeAundre Brown of Tulsa (6-1, 4-0) leads the league in sacks with eight, three coming in a 33-11 win over Texas-El Paso. After sharing defensive player of the week honors with Steward, Brown and the Golden Hurricane play host to Rice this weekend. The Owls (2-5, 0-3) handed 2013 C-USA entrant Texas-San Antonio its first loss last week, 34-14.O.J. McDuffie of East Division leader Central Florida (4-2, 2-0) broke the school kickoff return record against Southern Mississippi (0-6, 0-2) with his 66 yards on four attempts. The senior has 2,146 yards. Oddly, UCF scored its first-ever overtime win.Memphis (1-5, 1-1) may have gotten pasted by East Carolina, but the Tigers did register six sacks. The problem: That accounts for two-thirds the season total of nine.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.