GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Shane Carden threw for 410 yards and four touchdowns to help No. 22 East Carolina beat SMU 45-24 in its American Athletic Conference debut Saturday.
Justin Hardy had three first-half touchdown catches for the Pirates (4-1, 1-0 AAC), who were playing with a national ranking for the first time in six years. Carden became the program’s career passing leader midway through the third quarter while ECU finished with 581 yards.
Still, it wasn’t the kind of performance coach Ruffin McNeill wanted from his team coming out of a bye week.
The Pirates ran out to a 21-0 lead before the offense looked as though it took its foot off the gas, while the defense never looked sharp against an SMU offense that had managed one touchdown all year.
The Mustangs (0-5, 0-1) finished with a season-high 390 yards and nearly made it a one-possession game early in the fourth.
But Carden and the Pirates never were in serious danger of letting the game get away, either.
After SMU missed a field goal that would have closed the gap to eight, Carden directed a 70-yard drive for a field goal then Chris Hairston scored from 8 yards out on the next drive to push the margin back up to 45-24 with 7:49 left.
East Carolina had beaten Atlantic Coast Conference programs Virginia Tech and
North Carolina in its last two games, rolling past the Tar Heels 70-41 here and finishing with a program-record 789 total yards two weeks ago.
That returned the Pirates — who have long thrived in the underdog role — to the Top 25 for the first time since 2008 before opening AAC play after spending the past 17 years in Conference USA.
The high-scoring offense certainly did its part. Carden completed 31 of 41 passes and set the program’s passing yardage record on a 30-yard pass to Isaiah Jones, passing David Garrard’s mark of 9,029 yards.
Hardy finished with eight catches for 120 yards, all in the first half, in the first 3-TD receiving game of his career. Jones added nine catches for 130 yards and a score.
For SMU, the game at least offered a welcome show of progress for the offense. The Mustangs had scored just 12 points all year and hadn’t reached 300 yards in a game, but moved the ball effectively with a short passing game. SMU was 5 of 6 on fourth downs on the day, including three for three on its first TD drive.
Garrett Krstich threw for 339 yards and had two touchdown passes to Darius Joseph, who had 13 catches for 100 yards for SMU.
SMU now enters a week off from competition before Cincinnati comes to Ford Stadium on Oct. 18 for a conference battle on the Hilltop. Kickoff time is yet to be determined. Tickets are available online at smumustangs.com/tickets.