It was 85 degrees at kickoff and got warmer during East Carolina’s 33-30 win over N.C. State in Greenville on Saturday.
The Pirates scored on a 5-yard run by Anthony Scott with 5:49 remaining after mounting an 84-yard drive of 14 plays that consumed seven minutes, 15 seconds.
The Wolfpack had the ball twice subsequently, punting and then running out of time.
The circumstances show that ECU (2-0) was in shape physically to make plays against a big and athletic opponent under demanding conditions.
First-year Pirates coach Scottie Montgomery said the program has paid its dues under the supervision of one of the top strength and conditioning directors in the country.
“We’re really happy with the way that our guys went through the January part of that, then also the part that you get to during the spring and after spring and the summer,” Montgomery said. “Coach C (strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors) has done a great job with our guys. They’ve taken to it and they’ve been really, really, really good about making sure that their bodies are prepared for practice and prepared to be coached. We were proud of them because it’s hard.
“We’ve been practicing, even in preseason camp we practice at 2:15, 2:45, now 4:15, a little bit later. It’s still the hottest part of the day so they did a good job in those situations.”
The high for Saturday in Columbia, SC, where the Pirates meet South Carolina (1-1) at 4 p.m., is expected to be 88 degrees.
Big AAC/12 matchup
Cincinnati hosted Houston in a big early season American Athletic Conference contest on Thursday night. The Bearcats and Cougars have been viewed as frontrunners in Big 12 expansion analysis.
Houston reportedly has support from Texas.
Advocacy in its home state is something ECU never experienced with the ACC although that’s how the Pirates’ week four opponent, Virginia Tech, gained admission — through an ultimatum from Virginia.
Some said that the ACC didn’t want five members from North Carolina. It’s interesting that Houston could potentially become the fifth Texas school in the Big 12.
Empty seats on Tobacco Road and a general lack of excitement for football games with relatively-new members Boston College, Pitt or Syracuse are testimony to the oversight of omitting the Pirates.
The Big 12 is probably being heavily influenced by television interests in its expansion discussions since maximizing network revenue appears to be the driving force in adding members.
John Skipper, president of ESPN, is a North Carolina graduate.
Many of ECU’s advancements as an institution, most notably the development of a medical school, have come in spite of UNC’s efforts to suppress its fellow system member in Greenville.
ACC commissioner John Swofford once inferred in the ACC expansion process that academic traditions were a consideration.
Then the ACC admitted Louisville.
Years ago, when South Carolina was in the ACC, they couldn’t get a basketball big man named Mike Grosso enrolled because of an 800 requirement on the SAT.
Grosso wound up at Louisville and the Gamecocks later left the ACC.
One might wonder if the bathroom legislation was a negative factor in the Big 12’s considerations of ECU, given recent actions by the NCAA and ACC to move events out of the state.
That’s doubtful since Brigham Young is still in the mix after being faulted by some of the political opponents of the bathroom bill.
New chancellor Dr. Cecil Staton’s vision of East Carolina as the “next great national university” would be bolstered by membership in a Power Five conference.
Two factors are for sure in that process — it won’t be easy for the Pirates and they won’t give up.
Anderson a bigger back
The Pirates had 175 yards rushing against State with Devin Anderson’s nine carries netting a team-high 52 yards.
Anderson and Scott are each listed at 5 feet, 9 inches, but Anderson weighs 208 pounds compared to 189 for Scott.
“We thought that he would be a great change-up for us, a great guy that could get a lot of carries.” Montgomery said of Anderson. “We want to increase his carries as we continue to move him forward.
“He and James Summers will have even bigger roles as we move forward. Those are the types of backs you have to be able to play with if you’re going to be able to play against big-time opponents in the ACC or the SEC. Those guys just know how to get the ball downhill.
“I’m really proud of him. We put [Anderson] on scholarship at the beginning of the fall because in the spring he was so dominant running the football. We’re just very blessed that he was here as a non-scholarship athlete.”
The win over the Wolfpack was great for the ego of Pirate Nation and the self-perception of the program but it was still just the second game in a new coaching era.
How did the matchup play into the developmental process for this year’s team?
“They presented a lot of issues for us in their fronts, both offense and defense,” Montgomery said. “They were big and they were physical. They were well-coached. What we kind of came out with from our offensive and defensive fronts is that we’re tough. We weren’t always sound, offensively or defensively, doing everything the correct way, but we’re tough. You can start with toughness.
“Our guys played through the echo of the whistle in those fronts. We also know that we’ve got an anchor in our offensive front with J.T. Boyd and an anchor in our defensive front with Demetri McGill. Demetri McGill played 51 snaps. That’s a lot of snaps for a defensive lineman. His conditioning level has improved.
“Our quarterback position, we all kind of knew that [Philip Nelson] was going to be a special player coming into the year. He has a certain level of toughness and he knows his personnel really well with the weapons that he has, whether it be Zay Jones, Jimmy Williams, Devin Anderson, Quay Johnson. It goes on and on and on . . . with him.
“We’ve got a little bit of a change-up weapon at every position with James Summers. We’re kind of finding out how the personalities can all be on the field at one time.
“N.C. State was a really, really talented team.
“Defensively, what we found out is that we know what we’re doing but we’ve got to get people on the ground a little bit better than we did at certain times, but we’ve got a team that knows how to play great situational football, whether it be scheme from Coach [Kenwick] Thompson (defensive coordinator) or our guys getting guys aligned and playing great coverages in some of those situations. Our defense really won the game for us, connected to Pirate Nation being loud in the situational football.
“Those two things together, the way we played in the end on defense and then the crowd influence on the game was really critical in us winning and closing that football game.”
ECU’s previous coaching staff conducted votes on captains each week.
The Pirates are doing it differently now with DaShaun Amos, Boyd, Jones, McGill and Nelson serving as captains for the season.
“We have four that were voted on by the players,” Montgomery said. “They did a good job. I do the ballot counting because democracy is a wonderful thing. They voted on their teammates. I believe in that. That’s where you find true leadership. Who does the team think are leaders?
“I give the coaches 20 percent stake in that and let the coaches vote for one. We’ll have five. There may be one more that I’ll appoint so we may end the season with six total captains. We may not. We may end up with just having five. If I feel someone has gone over and above and beyond what we need from a leader, then I’ll appoint the last one.”
Gamecocks present challenges
South Carolina has been on the road for two games, a 13-10 comeback win at Vanderbilt and a 24-14 loss at Mississippi State to a Bulldog team that was smarting from a 21-20 upset loss to South Alabama.
“They’re a big-time SEC football team,” Montgomery said of the Gamecocks. “They’re well-coached. They’ve got a great coaching staff. They present a physical challenge that we have to be prepared for. Their defensive front, I mean they’re really, really talented at the defensive end position. T.J. Holloman at linebacker is one of the best that we’ll play against. He can play all three positions, whether it be mike, sam or will. We’ve seen him on tape and he tackles well in the open field.
“On the back end, [Chris] Lammons, the corner, No. 3, I really like him because he’s not just a corner that can stay close to you but he’s physical. He can get you on the ground. He plays with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm. He does a good job of defeating the blocks on the perimeter so we’ve got to play fast and play strong and physical when we’re playing against him on offense.
“Defensively, what our defense will be seeing from an offense — I’m very familiar with [Perry] Orth and [Brandon] McIlwain, probably a little bit more with McIlwain. We recruited him the last school I was at [Duke] so we’ve kind of got a good feel for him. He can run it and throw it. It seems like they seem a little bit more confident when Perry is on the field. They’ve done a good job. I’m really, really impressed with their freshman wide receiver [Bryan Edwards], big old guy (6-3, 210) with a huge catch radius and hard tackle. He’s playing at a high level after only being there not a long amount of time. . . .
“Their offensive line is big and physical so that’s what we have to look forward to. They have a lot of speed in the backfield. Their back (A.J. Turner) is tremendous. He can catch it out of the backfield. He can run inside zone. They’ll be a heavy inside zone team with a lot of motioning by their tight end, taking you to and away from the ball.
“So we’ve got a lot to do. We’ve got to get aligned on defense and all those things combined. We have to have a great week of preparation. We’ve started that way so far.”
Teaching time for Fulp
ECU defensive back Bobby Fulp went out early against N.C. State after impacting an N.C. State receiver in the head area.
Fulp is listed behind DeShawn Benton at strong safety on the depth chart this week.
“We’ll have him back immediately,” Montgomery said. “That was a first-quarter offense. . . . I look at that and we watch that. We watch it closely. He’ll be able to play this game but I’m more concerned with teaching him the correct way to keep other players that we’re going against safe but also himself safe. We’re working really hard trying to get him to lower the target.
“That’s a bang-bang play for officials, so I understand it always goes to safety of the players, but that’s one that’s hard on a defensive player when a guy’s running at you full speed to lower the target so we’re going to work to make sure he does a better job with that next time.
” . . . If it would have happened to my kid, I would probably be looking at it a million times. . . . It’s a tough situation, being a receiver and being a head coach of a defensive player. It’s really, really tough.”
Going on the road
A benefit of a scrimmage at Rocky River High School in the Charlotte area to conclude preseason camp gave this year’s team a simulated road trip.
“One of the reasons why we went on the road in camp, I know a lot of people know we went down to Charlotte to practice and had a couple of days away — we went down to practice the process of focusing and being able to go out and scrimmage and play,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got to start the game clean. We don’t have to start fast. We’ve just got to start penalty free. We’ve got to come down and manage the atmosphere of being in a big-time SEC stadium. Then we’ve just got to do what we do on a daily basis and try to win the play and if our kids will focus on that, I think we’ll be fine. We’ll be prepared to go down and play well and be focused, but we’ve got to start the game clean.”