East Carolina enters the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl as a 14-point favorite over an Ohio team that has made a bad habit of being on the wrong end of blowout losses this season. The Pirates have blown out their share of opponents with an explosive offense led by quarterback Shane Carden, who ranks in the top 10 nationally in both passing yards and touchdowns.
The Pirates come off a 59-28 loss to a Marshall team that Ohio beat early in the season, while the Bobcats lost three of their last four games by a combined score of 123-16 before beating Massachusetts in their final game. If East Carolina can bounce back after almost four weeks off, they have the better team and the majority of this bowl’s draftable players.
(JR) Justin Hardy, WR, East Carolina (#2), 6’0, 186
Hardy came to East Carolina as a quarterback but quickly made a smooth transition to wide receiver. His greatest advantage is his quickness in the short field, creating consistent yardage after the catch with sudden plants and cuts. He catches the ball away from his body nicely and looks both comfortable and smooth in the air, snatching balls above his head and securing the ball in traffic. Hardy is a great underneath playmaker for the Pirates and if he finds himself in an NFL offense that can challenge vertically, has the potential to be effective down the field as well. Hardy carries a Day 3 grade at the moment that he can improve if he returns for his senior season.
Vintavious Cooper, RB, East Carolina (#21), 5’9, 200
On the cusp of his second straight 1,000-yard season, Cooper is a compact runner with the strength to shake off tackles in the backfield. He uses his stiff arm well to keep defenders away from his body and keeps his legs moving to pick up extra yardage and finish runs. Cooper lacks great speed but does a nice job anticipating his next move with good vision and is quick enough to change direction effectively with jump cuts. He’s also an option in the receiving game and shows good hands and concentration to make catches that are tough for most running backs. Ranked as a priority free agent on our board, Cooper will look to have a big day against a suspect Ohio run defense.
Will Simmons, G, East Carolina (#70), 6’5, 342
Simmons is a strong run blocker with good leg drive and hand strength, controlling defenders at the line of scrimmage once he gets them in his grasp. He’s slow to the second level and doesn’t always get there in time to square up defenders but shows enough to execute a combo block when necessary. Simmons is willing to initiate contact in pass protection rather than waiting back on his heels, holds his ground well and shows good awareness, keeping his head on his swivel when uncovered to find a defender to double team. We rate Simmons as a free agent and while he has some athletic limitations, he has the potential to get some looks at the NFL level.
Other Players to Watch
(JR) Shane Carden, QB, East Carolina (#5), 6’2, 218
Carden shows great rhythm and timing on short passes and completes 71% percent of his throws in East Carolina’s quick strike offense. His throwing motion is a Carson Palmer-esque shotput and the ball drops near his waist at times, which hurts his accuracy and makes him a 2015 free agent prospect who can provide depth in a West Coast system.
Beau Blankenship, RB, Ohio (#22), 5’9, 206
Blankenship ran for over 1,600 yards as a junior but will need 156 yards in his final career game to break 1,000 this year. Blankenship is a north/south runner who plays behind his pads and has a thick lower half. He has some suddenness and cuts into the hole quickly but is limited by a lack of speed.
Donte Foster, WR, Ohio (#3), 6’1, 200
The Bobcats’ leading receiver this season, Foster struggled mightily in Ohio’s rough three-game stretch to start November. Foster shows strong hands and an ability to get vertical but his focus and consistency wane at times. He will need a big game to give Ohio a chance to beat East Carolina.