Turnovers are absolute game killers.
It was a tough lesson to learn for this East Carolina football team in the 20-15 loss at South Carolina. The squad weathered the storm of a 17-0 hole at the start, but a trio of trips inside the five — where the Pirates turned the football over — proved to be difference in winning and losing.
I call it the “ultra red zone.” The Pirates weren’t just inside the 20-yard line for the three turnovers. They were inside the five-yard line. Like magicians, somehow the Pirates turned 21 points into a big fat zero.
Pirate quarterback Phillip Nelson was especially upset with his play after the loss.
“When you win as a quarterback, you are the hero,” said Nelson. “But when you lose, like today, you’re the goat. I was certainly the goat today.”
First-year head coach Scottie Montgomery said Nelson checked out of a running play on the first “ultra” red zone turnover.
“He had the option to run or pass,” said Montgomery. “They clogged up the box, so the pass was there. It was just underthrown. It was supposed to go to the back pylon, but we didn’t execute.”
Montgomery said the second interception was a nice defensive play. He added that the fumbles, wherever they come on the field, have to stop.
“I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a game where a team turned it over that many times that close to the goal line,” said Montgomery at his weekly news conference on Monday. “The positive to that is that we still had every chance to win the football game, and just didn’t get it done.”
Next up, the Pirates look to make it three in a row over Virginia Tech — and seven in a row against the ACC — when they head to Blacksburg this weekend.
The Hokies are off to a 2-1 start under first year coach Justin Fuente. Virginia Tech beat Liberty on opening day, lost to Tennessee in Bristol, and then beat up on Boston College to open ACC play last week.
Coach Fuente faced East Carolina only once while at Memphis. That was a 41-7 Pirates win in 2012.
Longtime Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster has his team ranked second nationally in total defense after three games, giving up just 204.7 yards per game. The Hokies are also ranked first nationally in pass defense.
The Pirates are seventh nationally in total offense, and ranked fourth in the nation in first down offense.
On paper it’s a great matchup and it will be a great game if the Pirates protect the football around the goal line.
Touchdowns are better than field goals, but anything is better then a turnover when you are so close.
Hopefully, it was one of those fluke things that happen from time to time in this great game.
Ball security will be the hot topic at the Pirate practices this week leading into the matchup with Virginia Tech.