East Carolina avoided the tendency to play down to the level of its competition on Saturday night in a 52-7 win over Western Carolina.
The Catamounts are from the Football Championship Subdivision, which is allowed 63 scholarships compared to Football Bowl Subdivision programs, such as ECU, which have 85 scholarships.
It was a significantly better performance for the Pirates than a 28-20 win over visiting Towson of the FCS to lead off the 2015 season.
The Pirates apparently took preparations from the Cliff Moore practice facility and the meeting rooms and applied them at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
“We just did every practice like it was a game,” said senior outside linebacker Dayon Pratt. “Our Mondays beat their Mondays. We made sure our practice is better than their practice. We game planned and everybody fed off each other’s energy.
The NFL experience of first-year head coach Scottie Montgomery as a player and assistant provides the program with a trickle-down influence from the game’s highest level.
Wide receivers coach Phil McGeoghan also coached that positon in 2015 with the Miami Dolphins.
“It makes us work even harder,” Pratt said. “Because we’re getting coached by guys who have been there and done that. It’s obvious they know how to get there. They know what it takes. When they speak, it’s silent. We take everything there and we try to execute to the best of our ability.”
The Pirates host N.C. State (1-0) at noon on Saturday. The Wolfpack also opened at home, topping William & Mary of the FCS, 48-14, on Thursday night.
Pratt said the team ECU needs to be concerned about this week is the Pirates.
“As long as we keep doing what we’re doing, keep executing, find time to get better, find time to get an upper hand on the other players on the other team, we’re going to be straight,” Pratt said. “It’s us. We’ve got to worry about us and focus on us.”
ECU had 688 yards of total offense to 320 for the visitors.
The Pirates have reinvented James Summers, who ran 10 times for 95 yards and completed his only pass for 15 yards. Summers came to ECU as a receiver after playing as a running quarterback in high school and junior college. Summers was recruited by North Carolina and N.C. State after directing Greensboro Page to a 4-AA championship in 2011. Summers split time at quarterback last season with the Pirates and appeared set to go forward as a receiver until transfers impacted ECU’s quarterback situation.
Summers’ effectiveness in a well-designed scheme Saturday night provides the potential for greater offensive versatility, an asset for ECU and a factor that will require broader preparation by opponents.
“It felt great,” Summers said Saturday night. “New coaching staff, a couple of guys added to the family. It was a great atmosphere and we had fun.”
Summers lined up in a variety of positions in a myriad of sets. He knows he’s an added dimension for opposing defenses.
“It helps question the defense all the time,” he said of his role. “The defense stays on their toes because they don’t know know what they’re going to do with me. I could just be a decoy sometimes. It’s awesome to be in there and have that effect.”
The Pirates have bought in to new systems and the investment appeared solid in the season opener.
Philip Nelson finished high school the same year as Summers. He topped his career highs — against Indiana as a sophomore in 2013 at Minnesota — with 28 completions in 32 attempts for 398 yards and five touchdowns. He also ran 7 yards for the first touchdown in the Montgomery era.
Zay Jones had 10 catches for 180 yards, catching a 21-yard scoring pass from Nelson that provided a 31-7 lead at the half. Nelson and Jones did some fine tuning during the summer.
“Zay is a guy you can ask to come out there and run routes and he’ll never tell you, ‘No,'” Nelson said. “You can see that out there on the field. He’s unstoppable almost. I know that any ball I throw he’s going to go get it. … He’s an unbelievable weapon to have.”
Nelson was in the program last year, directing the scout team after transferring from Rutgers. He has seen revisions in the running game which should make for a more balanced attack.
ECU netted 275 yards rushing against the Catamounts with junior Anthony Scott carrying 11 times for 120 yards with a score.
“We’ve got a little more running schemes going,” Nelson said. “We’re just looking to attack every aspect. … There are just so many guys you can go to. It’s a great offense.”
Offensive lineman J.T. Boyd is an experienced part of the Pirates’ pit crew. Boyd had been saying the running game was going to be more productive.
“Coach (Geep) Wade (offensive line) has put a huge emphasis on it,” Boyd said. “We do run drill after run drill after run drill. He preaches it in meeting rooms as well, getting our landmarks and running our run-blocking technique.”
ECU continued to have success running even after reserves took the field in the fourth quarter, a testimony to team discipline and the development of depth.
“Tony Petersen (offensive coordinator) has a great scheme,” Jones said. “He’s really opened it up, utilizing receivers all over the field, including myself, to play inside and outside. He has that deep threat and the short and intermediate routes as well.”
Jones looked improved despite undergoing offseason shoulder surgery that kept him out of spring practice.
“The guys around me have made me better,” Jones said. “Davon Grayson right now is out with a back injury but he’s probably been my biggest critic in helping me prepare. Trevon Brown as well. Then we have Phil Nelson, the blond bomber, who has done an unbelievable job.”