The NCAA leader in passing attempts and completions, East Carolina QB Shane Carden faces one of the biggest tests of his career.
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The East Carolina Pirates and QB Shane Carden take on the Florida Gators in the annual Birmingham Bowl.
The Florida Gators are playing for more than just their own pride – which diminished after a terrible season that resulted in the firing of head coach Will Muschamp – they are playing for the pride of the entire SEC, which has gone a stunning 6-5 in bowl games this season, most notably with Alabama losing to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl of the College Football Playoffs. Interim head coach D. J. Durkin will lead the team even though the team has already hired Jim McElwain to be their next head coach, and QB Treon Harris is expected to get the start. Despite their inability to pick up wins in 2015, the Gators still boast one of the most impressive defenses in college football. The Gators have also scored 21 points or more in seven games this season, thanks in large part to WR Demarcus Robinson’s ability to stretch the field. They key to beating the Gators will be to shut down the run early and force QB Treon Harris to throw in uncomfortable situations.
The Pirates are trying to pick up the pieces to a season that started with an impressive 6-1 record, but then lost 3 of their last 5 to fall out of contention for the AAC title. Nonetheless, the team still has QB Shane Carden, who led the FBS in passing attempts, passing completions, and was No. 2 in passing yards. Carden led the Pirates to eight games with over 30 points scored – including a four-game streak of such to end the season. However the defense has been a major liability for East Carolina, with eight games allowing 21 points or more and five games allowing 30 points or more. The key to beating the Pirates will be to force them into a shootout with plenty of short scoring drives that takes advantage of their vulnerable defense.
Prediction: East Carolina Pirates win the Birmingham Bowl – While the Gators may have the better defense, the Pirates have the better quarterback. It’s been two months since Shane Carden’s team was held below 30 points in a game and while they may not be able to get that many against Florida, the Gators lack the kind of offensive firepower to pose a real threat to the Pirates.