GREENVILLE, North Carolina — SMU finally started moving the ball and scoring touchdowns Saturday. For interim coach Tom Mason, it's a start.
The Mustangs reached the end zone three times and had their best yardage total this year in a 45-24 loss to No. 22 East Carolina. It was a huge improvement for a team that scored just one touchdown and 12 total points in the first four games of the season.
"Those kids went out and they played hard," Mason said. "They gave us a chance to win the game."
Garrett Krstich threw for a career-high 339 yards and had two touchdown passes to Darius Joseph, who had 13 catches for 100 yards. SMU's short and controlled passing game led to 390 total yards. The Mustangs even had an 18-play, 8-minute touchdown drive and were aggressive in play-calling by converting 5 of 6 fourth downs.
Before Saturday, SMU's only TD this season was a 33-yard final-play pass in a 43-6 loss to North Texas on Sept. 6.
"From where we were at to where we are now is night and day," Mason said. "Going back to that North Texas game and I walked off that field, I didn't feel too good about life. Now we have a chance."
For East Carolina, Shane Carden threw for 410 yards and four touchdowns while becoming the program's career passing leader in ECU's first American Athletic Conference game.
Justin Hardy had three first-half touchdown catches for the Pirates (4-1, who were playing with a national ranking for the first time in six years. ECU finished with 581 yards.
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 as the Mustangs (0-5, 0-1) 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.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
All content copyright ©2014 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.