Donnie Kirkpatrick doesn’t think Demetrius Mauney is going to get any faster during his East Carolina football career, but he does think the freshman is bound to improve with time as a more complete running back.

Mauney, who is leading the Pirates in rushing this season but he has no starts and no touchdowns, is first on the depth chart for the matchup against UCF (4-2, 1-1 American Athletic Conference) on Saturday night.

More than anything, Kirkpatrick, ECU’s first-year offense coordinator, wants Mauney to continue to play and experience different true game situations for the Pirates (3-3, 0-2) during the second half of the season.

“He is a lot more ready than he was before,” Kirkpatrick said. “Running backs get here and they are as fast as they probably are going to be, they do get a little bit stronger, and they run and see the hole, but they know nothing about protection. They have never blocked a blitzing linebacker, and that is why (quarterback) Holton (Ahlers) is laying on the ground is because the running back didn’t pick the blitz up. That’s the first thing you have to do is block that linebacker, so all of the sudden, (freshmen) will get bogged down.”

Head coach Mike Houston added that Mauney replacing former starting RB Trace Christian was one example of a player proving his worth on the field and coming off a bye week. He said other players have done the same.

“He had a really solid open week of practice, and the thing is if you see any changes on the depth chart, I promise you that it is earned on the field,” he said of Mauney, who has 57 carries for 244 yards for an average run of 4.3 yards. “We said when we first stood up here that everybody has a shot and it’s based on your efforts and the way you perform on the practice field and game field. That’s a result of his efforts, and I think there are some other guys who are coming along too.”

Led by sophomore quarterback Ahlers and now with Mauney and freshman C.J. Johnson as prominent starters, this week’s ECU offensive depth chart has seven of the 11 starters who are underclassmen. The two seniors are left guard Fernando Frye and center Branden Pena, who rotates often with junior John Spellacy.

The Pirate offense could be pressured into catch-up mode often against UCF, which is fourth in the nation in scoring offense and its 544.3 yards per game average ranks third. ECU is No. 99 in total offense (73rd in rushing) and its scoring average of 20.7 points per outing ranks 112th.

“We want to run the ball and we don’t want to milk the clock or anything like that, but we definitely want to take possession of the ball and not turn it over,” Kirkpatrick said of facing the Knights, who have plenty of proven playmakers surrounding freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel. “Those are things that you try to do every week, but it will be important this week that we can keep the ball and keep the (ECU) defense off the field. Our big thing is we have to score some points, because we know we are not scoring enough points and that’s the issue.

“It doesn’t take much analytical study to figure that out. ... The self doubt is still there and we have to have success, because you get confidence from having success.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.