Former East Carolina coach Steve Logan used to say that losses before open dates were especially excruciating because there was longer to dwell on them before the next game.
The Pirates avoided that scenario with a 33-17 homecoming win over Brigham Young before their bye week, an outcome that got a thumbs-up in retrospect from ECU coach Scottie Montgomery.
“I thought it was our best performance of the year,” Montgomery said. “There’s no question about it. Offensively, defensively and special teams. Our defense came up with some major stops that turned into points. Too many field goals at one point in the game, but really critical to our season and giving us some momentum was the turnover/touchdown. We created a turnover and then went and got a touchdown. I thought that was a really, really critical point for us. Our guys did a really good job in the game.”
The Pirates improved to 2-6 on the season and take a 1-3 mark in the American Athletic Conference to Houston (5-3, 3-2) for a noon kickoff Saturday.
ECU will be the homecoming opponent for Houston after enjoying the supportive advantages of the occasion against BYU.
“We came in [Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium] on homecoming and the crowd was fantastic,” Montgomery said. “That was the kind of energy I had asked for. I’m just so glad that our fans came out and delivered. Our players fed off of that. There was no way our guys were going to go out and not perform at a high level in that type of environment.”
Sirk should be back
Graduate transfer quarterback Thomas Sirk missed the latter stages of the BYU game, but is expected to play this week.
“He’s fine,” Montgomery said. “We gave him a few days off last week, but he practiced on Sunday. He practiced on Tuesday. . . . He’s ready to go.”
Gardner Minshew threw a pair of touchdown passes that allowed ECU to take control against BYU after Sirk had exited.
Open date practice
The Pirates refined their game plan for Houston with extra time to prepare, but also took some time off.
“We came right back out and practiced on Sunday, right after the BYU game,” Montgomery said. “We gave them Monday off. We got back on the field for a big, big day on Tuesday. Another big, big day on Wednesday. Thursday, we used that as a mental day and running and lifting. Then Friday and Saturday, we gave them time off. Sunday, we were right back at practice again. So, they got two days open last week, which is pretty much what a lot of people do. We went a little harder Tuesday and Wednesday with some of our young guys. We had some real, live scrimmaging for our guys that are being redshirted and the young players in our program to kind of see where they were. It was a good judging point for us. We also got to see a lot of Reid Herring (quarterback) because of Thomas not practicing.
“A lot of it was things we had to do to get better on but we also got ahead on Houston. We had most of the game plan in for Houston by Thursday. They gave us some tweaks from the last game so we had to go back and tweak it again so now we’re getting to practice some things twice that normally we wouldn’t get to practice twice because of our work last week.”
Open week recruiting
The Players got some time off during the bye week but the coaches got busy on the recruiting trail.
“I flew to New York City on Wednesday night to see some people at a junior college early Thursday morning,” Montgomery said. “I was able to watch some practices early Thursday morning. That evening, I got on a flight to Miami to go down and see a lot of speed all over the city. I was able to go to several schools. The following day, I was able to watch three football games and go to more schools. That following Saturday morning, I got up early and flew to Kansas to see some more guys that we have a lot of interest in and knowledge about before in Kansas. I got to watch two football games out there. At 11 p.m., I flew back to Greenville. I got back to Greenville around 2:30 or three o’clock, somewhere around there. I woke up the next morning and got ready for Sunday practice.
“Our coaches were all out, a lot in North Carolina but up and down, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia. Those were some of the places our guys were.”
Houston coming off big win
A late score lifted Houston to a 28-24 win at South Florida on Saturday, the first loss for the Bulls.
“They’re coming off a big win,” Montgomery said. “I was impressed with the way they handled the elements. I thought they handled the rain well. They had a great plan for the rain. The change at quarterback was beneficial and timely for their offense. Defensively, Ed Oliver is just a great player at noseguard. He does a good job of just being all over the snap count. They’re playing a lot of people on their defensive front. He’s not playing as much as I thought that I was going to see him on tape. I think he’s still coming back from his injury a little bit, but he’s playing at an extremely high level. They have a lot of athletes on defense.
“They can run their offense two different ways. They can go tempo on offense and then they can act like they’re going tempo and then call it from the sideline to maybe help the quarterback a little bit. All in all, a very good football team. It will be a good challenge for us, but we’re playing with a lot of confidence. If they score, I think that we can respond. If they get a stop, I think that we can get a stop. I’m really interested to see how this turns out because of our guys, the way that they’ve practiced and the confidence that they have in each other right now.”
Houston, quarterback change
The Cougars played two quarterbacks at USF, which likely accounts for some of the tweaks in the ECU game plan.
“I don’t know if they necessarily went into the game thinking they were going to change quarterbacks, or if it was a strategic plan because of the weather,” Montgomery said. “They went from [Kyle] Postma to [D’Eriq] King in the game, but then No. 3 (Postma) came back in. Then No. 4 (King) came back in and then No. 4 finished the duration of the football game. He did a great job. He used his legs, completed a big-time 4th-and-20-plus play and also threw a big-time fade ball down the left boundary to get one of the first touchdowns that they had. He just played well. He found his people all over the field. They just played well.”
The Pirates will be looking to build on their Oct. 21 win.
“Offensively, we’ve got to get in a rhythm and stay in a rhythm,” Montgomery said. “We’re going to have to be extremely aggressive in this football game. You’re going to see us be aggressive. At this time of the year, you start to feel a little more comfortable with some of the people that you have. You’ve practiced a lot more some of the things that you want to use. Now, some of that stuff is game ready. Offensively, we’ve got to have an aggressive mindset.
“Defensively, we’re going to have to tackle these guys. Since we’re getting some people back on the field, we are playing at a high level at certain spots. Aaron (Ramseur, linebacker) is playing at a high level. Tank Robinson is playing at a high level. There are certain people on that defensive front that are playing at a high level. Now it’s time for them to put it all together. They were able to put together four or five big-time stops last week (vs. BYU). It was interesting to see BYU score a lot of points their next ball game (41-20 home win over San Jose State). Our guys did a good job of putting together back-to-back-to-back-to-back stops.
“We’ve just got to go out and get some stops early and often. In the second half (vs. BYU), it was critical the adjustments that we made at halftime. It was great. We’re going to have to adjust again this week. So our adjustments defensively at halftime are going to be critical.”
11 a.m. Central time kickoff
The Pirates will be kicking off at noon, Eastern time. That will be 11 a.m. in Houston, which is on Central time.
“Our kids will be on the schedule that they would normally be for a noon kickoff,” Montgomery said. “We’re going to get out there early the day before (today). We’ll be ready to go. We don’t mind playing at those early times. It’s probably going to be best. It’s going to be a hot day. It would be hotter if we were starting later in the day. It’s going to be around 80 degrees at kickoff.”