One conclusion that emerged for East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery after reviewing film from a 63-21 American Athletic Conference loss at Central Florida was that the Pirates need to increase team speed.
“The first thing that was decisive — we’ve got to put a faster team on the field and I think that we can,’ Montgomery said. “Coach C (Jeff Connors, assistant athletic director for strength and conditioning) has given us the tools to be able to do that.
“We’ve got to recruit a faster team if we’re going to catch where UCF and USF are right now. Once I looked at it (UCF game) on tape, I thought we had a lot of guys on defense play hard. I mean really, really hard.
“One step behind guys turned into 9-yard gains where we were stride for stride with them. A couple of times, they ran away from us. We’ve just got to get faster, definitely on defense.
“Offensively, what it showed me, we’ve got to get some kind of form of cohesiveness in our offensive line. Bringing back John Spellacy to the center position — he’s back now — we’re hoping that will give us that consistency that we want. I thought they won the battle in the trenches but we did some good things. We rushed the ball for more yards than we traditionally rush it for. I challenged the offensive line and they did a good job of creating some openings for Darius (Pinnix, running back).
“I was very proud of some of the things they were able to do in the run game. I thought we grew in the run game. Now we’ve got to grow in both the run game and the pass game, offensively.”
ECU (1-6, 1-3 AAC) netted 187 yards rushing against the unbeaten Knights (5-0, 3-0).
“Special teams, it hurt us because we had to watch a great player (UCF punt returner Mike Hughes) score a touchdown on us,” Montgomery said. “Our plan was not to kick to him. We didn’t execute and we kicked it to him. Because of that, and some other factors, they scored a touchdown on us. Austin (Barnes, punter) was just trying to get it out of there as quick as he could, backed up, but we didn’t want to kick the ball to him. I knew how dangerous he would be back there. Overall, well below the level of Pirate football.”
Still, Montgomery perceives a process that is on the verge of producing.
“I told our guys on Tuesday because of the way that they responded on Sunday and Monday, it’s kind of three parts of a program,” said the ECU coach. “You kind of form the program. The program’s forming and the next part of the program is a little bit of a storm. So there’s some storming going on. Actually, the storming process is probably the most important process because you find out the truth, who people are and how we can work and we’re not covering up like you do in the forming process.
“Now we’ve got to turn storming into performing. I really like where we are right here on the cusp of changing it even though we’re coming off a game where we didn’t play well against a great opponent.”
The Pirates need a degree of perfection in practice to carry over to Saturday’s 7 p.m. homecoming game against Brigham Young (1-6).
“Our practice focus this week is not to have do-overs,” Montgomery said. “You don’t get do-overs in games. We’re practicing hard, but now I want us to start practicing so efficiently that we go through an entire practice without reloading a play or having to see it again.
“We see and we react and we respond to what we’re seeing. That’s our challenge now because that’s what’s happening to us in games. Six crucial plays in games change games. If we have six reloads in a practice that means those six plays are likely the six plays that we’re going to give up in the game that have a huge effect. So no reloading this week. No re-doing practice plays. That’s one of our major focuses.”
Youngsters stepping up
Running back Darius Pinnix, center John Spellacy, linebacker Aaron Ramseur and defensive back Tank Robinson are all freshmen who are getting significant playing time.
“It’s not that we’re just counting on them,” Montgomery said. “They have earned the right to be out there. It’s hard for me to talk about freshmen. I don’t like talking about freshmen. The truth of the matter is when we look at practice performance and game performance and just overall performance, off the field performance, they’ve climbed the ladder quick.
“I would love to look out there and those guys be third- and fourth-year players. But that’s just not where we are. We’re building this program. We’re doing it the right way with these kids. Just the outreach from all the parents that we’ve gotten, talking about how their kid is growing and they’re so proud. It just feels good that if you’re a parent to see your kid out there on the field playing well and then get his progress report and he’s got all As and Bs.
“So we’re building it the right way, the way that I feel like we should build it. We’ve just got to put a few more pieces to the puzzle together. We are relying on those guys because they have proven themselves to be worthy.”
Homecoming, special occasion
The Pirates overwhelmed Connecticut 41-3 last year and the program has generally responded well to the alumni gathering for football that marks a homecoming game.
“We’re going to come out and be ready to play,” Montgomery said. “Five out of the seven teams we’ve played have been ranked and we won one of the other two.”
ECU won 41-38 at UConn on Sept. 25.
“We needed some of those tough opponents, but we also needed to build some confidence early in the year,” Montgomery said. “We’ve been able to build some confidence without winning by the way these guys work, and work ethic in practice. Now we need to go out and respond on homecoming in a major, major fashion. I’m looking at the leadership on this team now and looking at some of our younger players. I think we’re close to doing just that.”
BYU’s demanding schedule
The Pirates aren’t underestimating the incoming Cougars.
“Look at the schedule — and I’m not making any excuses for them,” Montgomery said. “They don’t want any excuses, whatsoever. I think they’ve played one of toughest schedules in the entire country.
“You get LSU, you get Wisconsin, you get a Boise [State] team. You get Mississippi State on the road. This is all in the first seven games of the year. You’re still trying to play with some new personnel and some new people. They do have some young kids. When I say young, I mean sophomores playing. Traditionally, you can look out there a lot of time and see juniors and seniors and they’re 26 [years old] and 25 and 24. . . . They’ve had a tremendous amount of injuries. We’ve had some injuries as well, but they’ve just hit some tough situations.
“The toughest situation I would say is that people just don’t understand the physicality of having to play LSU, Wisconsin and Mississippi State. . . . It’s just so physical on a team and that’s why the SEC and the Big Ten traditionally, when you talk about football conferences, physical conferences, those are the ones that come up.”
It was announced Thursday that ECU will have games in 2022 at BYU and at home against the Cougars in 2024.
Big plays need to get bigger and the offense needs to capitalize on defensive stops.
“The first thing that we’ve got to do is we’ve got to get some stops on defense to get our confidence, get everything rolling,” Montgomery said. “And then off of those stops, our offense has to go out and create some big plays. Those big plays that we’ve been having, that go for 40 or 50 yards, I want them to turn into plays that go 75 or 90 yards for touchdowns.
“We’ve got to score touchdowns. We need some explosive plays on offense that score touchdowns, not explosive plays that get us to the red zone and get us in field goal range. We’ve got to score some touchdowns from some distances out. I don’t mind getting into the 4- and 5-yard area because I believe Thomas (Sirk, quarterback) can give us a little bit of a different effect, whether he’s running it, whether he’s throwing it.
“We’ve got to play together. We’ve been playing OK until this last week when we gave up a touchdown and we catch the ball on the 1-yard line with our return.
“We’ve got to have a guy that gives us a splash on Saturday. The one thing that I feel very confident about is that all of a sudden the people that we were going to be counting on are actually able to practice and actually able to do their jobs so big-time boost on special teams, but offense and defense have got to work together.
“As soon as we get a stop, we’ve got to get a score.”