Justin Jones (left) and Justin Hardy (right) combine for five touchdown receptions against Memphis
Oct. 13, 2012
By Bill Woodward
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Justin and Justin. That's how East Carolina football coach Ruffin McNeill referred to his pass-catching tandem of Justin Jones and Justin Hardy after Saturday's 41-7 victory over Memphis.
Two receivers with the same first name but very different games. And two receivers that give East Carolina a combination that is hard to beat.
Jones is a 6-foot-8, 258-pound junior who can line up at tight end of split out. He towers over most backs that defends him and has the hands to go up and get the ball.
Hardy is a 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore who can beat a defender deep or go over the middle and find the holes in the zone for tough catches.
On Saturday against Memphis, Jones had three touchdown catches and Hardy two as the Pirates routed Memphis.
"Both of them have unique abilities," McNeill said after the Pirates improved to 3-1 in Conference USA with the win over the Tigers. "Justin [Jones] has height and size but really good athletic ability. He was a basketball player in high school, has really good eye-hand coordination. He has learned these past couple of weeks, he has grown up mentally. He has really worked hard in practice.
"Justin Hardy is a guy, day in and day out, week in and week out who performs at a high level. [Offensive coordinator] Lincoln [Riley] is finding ways to get both of those guys on the field at the same time and he is finding a way to take advantage of what he has got. I was proud of the staff and the way those two kids stepped up."
For quarterback Shane Carden, who posted career highs in yards (308) and TDs (five) on Saturday, it is a nice combination to have at his disposal.
"They are both very good receivers and both very different receivers about how they play the game," Carden said. "It is very effective. If they are both on the field, you just go through your normal reads and it just seems like one of them is going to open up. It just happens that way."
On Jones' first TD catch, Carden saw him matched against a defensive back that was six inches shorter than the big guy. Facing a third-and-22 from the Memphis 39, Carden threw it high into the end zone and Jones went up and came down with the football clutched in his hands for six points.
"We knew what the situation was third-and-long," Carden said. "You see Justin Jones over there at 6-8 on one man and you just throw it up to him and let him make a play. He made a great play."
For Jones, it is a matter of using his size and abilities to his advantage. He is big and plays big.
"I had to go up for it," Jones said of his first TD grab. "I was glad I made that play when my number was called. You just have to be prepared to go up and get it.
"It gets physical. When it gets physical, you have to relish it and just enjoy it. I played a lot of basketball back in high school and middle school and I think it comes out a little bit."
Later, Jones was going up against a 5-foot-10 defender one-on-one. Carden went to the big guy again on a third-and-goal from the 4-yard line.
Jones made it look easy, and the Pirates were up 41-0.
"He's a great weapon to have out there," Carden said.
When Jones and Hardy are both on the field, it presents a special set of problems for the defense.
"A lot of times when we are out there together, that can be a real fit for defenses," Jones said. "You've got to cover him. You want to double cover me in the red zone but you want to double cover him too because he can go up and get it too.
"We have good receivers surrounding us, too. I think Shane [Carden] is pretty confident all of us will bring it in for him. You have to trust each other. I think we are starting to come together as an offense "
Hardy caught a touchdown pass for the sixth time in seven games and 10th time in his last 12, getting loose for a 67-yarder on the Pirates' third play from scrimmage.
In seven games, he has 617 yards receiving and seven TD catches.
Hardy also likes it when he and Jones are on the field at the same time.
"It doesn't give the defense a chance to double team anybody, and that is good for us," Hardy said. "We just do our job and good things seem to happen.
"This is the offense that we have been working on. This is the kind off offense that the coaches want us to have. It is going to get better for us every week."
When Justin and Justin are clicking like they were Saturday night, it is very fun for the Pirates. And miserable for the defense trying to stop them.