GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) — East Carolina’s offense is clicking again — especially Chris Johnson.

Now coach Skip Holtz hopes the Pirates and his star tailback can maintain their elite status in the East Division of Conference USA during their late-season push.

That didn’t happen a year ago, when the Pirates blew a chance to claim a berth in the league championship game, let an eight-point lead slip away at Rice and allowed Southern Mississippi to win the division crown.

East Carolina (6-4, 5-1), which followed its loss to North Carolina State with lopsided victories over UAB and Memphis, is preparing to put its five-game Conference USA winning streak on the line this week at struggling Marshall (1-8, 1-4).

“We talked about how we responded off a loss against N.C. State, coming back and playing one of our better games against UAB,” Holtz said. “We then saw if we were mature enough to handle going on the road after a win. I was really proud of the way we responded to the challenge.”

Johnson, the C-USA offensive player of the week, rushed for a career-high 301 yards and four touchdowns during the 56-40 win against Memphis, the second-best performance in school history and his fourth multi-touchdown game this season.

“Chris Johnson continues to be committed and seems like a man on a mission right now,” Holtz said. “He has put his best foot forward each and every week.

“He has been physical, tough and durable, and that has helped him break tackles in order to make some things happen.”

The Pirates rushed for 491 yards against Memphis and now must prepare for a Thundering Herd defense that ranks 100th or worse nationally in the four major defensive stat categories.

Those numbers are deceiving, Holtz said, because Marshall’s schedule includes games against Miami, Cincinnati and West Virginia.

“All I see is them playing toe-to-toe with everyone on their schedule,” Holtz said.

“When you watch their film and evaluate them athletically, they are not a 1-8 football team. If you fall into the trap of only looking at their record, you will leave with your foot sticking out of your ear.”

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