If you’re looking for something positive to take from the 54-17 drubbing East Carolina received last Saturday at Virginia Tech, here’s one to try on for size: At least there weren’t any “what ifs” to ponder like there were after the previous week’s loss at South Carolina.
As bad as the Pirates’ performance was against the Hokies — and it was about as bad as it can get in every phase of the game — it shouldn’t be hard for coach Scottie Montgomery, his staff and their players to put behind them and move on.
Just watch the tape once to identify the mistakes that need to be corrected, throw it into the fireplace and burn it before hitting the reset button and treating Saturday’s game as if it was the start of a brand new season.
As luck would have it, the matchup against Central Florida at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium actually is the start of a new season. It’s the American Athletic Conference opener, meaning that ECU is still 0-0 in the games that matter most.
“The ultimate goal still attainable,” quarterback Philip Nelson said. “We’re talking about a conference championship. Obviously we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. We want to win every single day in practice, but moving forward it doesn’t matter who we’ve beat and who we’ve lost to. We’re looking at this as a fresh start.”
That having been said, there are plenty of lessons both good and bad that can be learned from the now-completed nonconference schedule.
Nelson, for instance, has proven to be a major upgrade at quarterback than the Pirates had a year ago. Even in Saturday’s defeat, he showed he is more than capable of hitting the deep ball with two 70-plus yard touchdown strikes — both to Jimmy Williams, who is rapidly developing into an explosive complement to reliable workhorse Zay Jones.
ECU has also made improvements in its ground game, provided Anthony Scott can overcome his problem of putting the ball on the ground.
Defensively, the Pirates have played well in three of their first four games with linebackers Jordan Williams, Terrell Richardson, Dayon Pratt, Cam White and Yiannis Bowden rapidly developing into a top-flight unit.
On the downside, ECU has got some major issues on special teams. In the past two weeks, they’ve given up an 80-yard kickoff return, a punt return for a touchdown, and had two field goals and a punt blocked while botching another punt because of what position coach Shannon Moore termed “a miscommunication.”
More troubling is the fact that they were pushed around physically on both lines of scrimmage by Virginia Tech, a team ECU had beaten in each of the previous two years.
Those are issues Montgomery didn’t waste any time addressing as soon as he got his team back onto the practice field following its return from Blacksburg.
“We want to take from the good that we did, but we also need to learn from the bad,” Montgomery said. “We’ve moved on from the outcome of the game, but we’re still living in the moments of what we need to get fixed. That’s what we’re doing.”
Montgomery’s plan for correcting the special teams issues are a number of personnel moves — including perhaps a change in kickers from inconsistent incumbent Davis Plowman to true freshman Jake Verity, who made both his extra points and his first career field goal during last week’s anticlimactic second half.
As for the issue of physicality, the first-year coach is addressing the situation the only way you can — by having his players get physical with one another at practice.
“We made it physical from start to finish,” Montgomery said after Tuesday’s practice. “We felt like we got out-hit and we felt like they played lower than us in the game. That won’t happen again in this coach’s watch.
“We know we should have played a lot better than we played. The guys know it. It was physical and that’s the way it’s going to be the rest of the way.”
While practice can potentially make perfect when it comes to execution, the mental side of the game is a much more difficult to gauge or control.
Getting over last Saturday’s dismal performance won’t be a problem. Just burn the tape and move on. Keeping it from creeping back to mind the first time something bad happens against UCF on Saturday will be much more of a challenge.
That’s why it’s imperative that the Pirates get off to a better start than they have in their two previous games.
“This is a good team we’re playing,” senior center J.T. Boyd said. “It’s a conference game. It means a lot. We’ve got to put our foot on the gas early and not let things snowball on us. We’re a very good team. (Virginia Tech) was just one of those things that happen. We just have to put it behind us and focus on Saturday.”
And the start of a brand new season.