East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill isn’t interested in impressing anyone, but a five-game winning streak has the No. 21 Pirates building a case to be included in a major bowl.
The Pirates go for their longest winning streak in 15 years Saturday, when they face sputtering Temple in this American Athletic Conference matchup.
East Carolina (6-1, 3-0) cracked the Top 25 following a 70-41 win over North Carolina on Sept. 20. McNeill doesn’t care how the Pirates remain among the nation’s elite, even if it means impressing a committee that could determine if they belong in a major bowl.
“We just want to win by one,” McNeill said.
The Pirates nearly did that their last time out on Oct. 23, scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter to emerge with a 31-21 win over Connecticut, which occupies the AAC basement. Despite the victory, East Carolina dropped three spots in the AP poll.
“A couple weeks ago, we didn’t even play and moved up two spots. That’s why I don’t focus on them,” McNeill said of the rankings. “I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I am informed. We didn’t play a game and moved up. We don’t coach for rankings.
“What we coach is playing our best on every play and embracing our roles to make the team better. That’s what we can control.”
That’s been good enough for East Carolina to match its best start since 1999, and the team is aiming for a sixth straight win in a single season for the first time since taking 11 in a row in 1991.
Shane Carden will have a say in getting the Pirates closer to that mark. The senior leads the conference with 2,574 passing yards, completing 64.6 percent of his attempts with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Carden has topped 400 yards passing in four of the past five games and connected on 38 of 64 chances to finish with a season-high 445 yards with a pair of TDs and one pick versus the Huskies.
He continues to link up with Justin Hardy, who hauled in 14 passes for 186 yards and a score against UConn. The senior wide receiver is among the AAC leaders with 61 receptions, 779 yards and six touchdowns. However, he’s been particularly outstanding in the past three games, pulling down 32 passes for 420 yards and four scores.
Carden and Hardy could be in position to combine for another brilliant offensive display since Temple (4-3, 2-2) has allowed 604 passing yards, four touchdowns and 65 points while losing back-to-back games.
The Owls were giving up just 14.4 points per game over the previous five contests, and that’s enough for McNeill to be concerned.
“They play a lot of guys, but they only allow 19 points per game,” he said.
Temple, though, is coming off its worst offensive performance of the season, totaling 182 yards – 32 rushing – while falling 34-14 at UCF.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed in coming off Saturday and the last two games where we haven’t played our brand of football,” coach Matt Rhule said. “It’s one thing to win or lose, but we haven’t played the way we want to play. I think it’s really a pivotal moment for us.
“As I told them, this is their last opportunity to play a Top 25 team this year, it’s their last opportunity to play someone that’s done the things that these guys have done, and we better quickly regain our confidence if we want to play a high level.”
That likely includes sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker, who has tossed five picks in two games. He had two against the Knights, while being held to a season-low 111 yards on 15-of-28 passing with one touchdown.
East Carolina has won seven of 11 all-time meetings with Temple, but the teams haven’t met since 1995.