East Carolina had several streaks snapped in a big way on Saturday in the embarrassing 54-17 loss to Virginia Tech.
It was as if the Hokies took out their frustrations of a two-game losing streak to the Pirates on this 2016 ECU team. That six game-winning streak against the ACC also bit the Blacksburg dust.
Virginia Tech looked light years better than ECU this time out.
Coaches say your team is never really as good as it looks some days nor as bad as it looks other days. Pirate Coach Scottie Montgomery certainly hopes the latter rang true this time out.
The ECU special teams were anything but special. The early punt return for a touchdown set the tone for a horrendous performance from the specialty units.
Add in a blocked field goal, a blocked punt, a botched punt and a fumble on a punt return and you get one big mess to try and clean up with the American Athletic Conference slate set to open this weekend.
It’s the age old question. Do you use your starters on special teams or don’t you?
Coach Mo and his staff had decided to try and give some of the younger players experience in this first month of the year, while trying to keep the starters healthy by giving them fewer snaps.
That is now history. The future of the Pirate specialty teams appears to be with the starters.
“At this point in time, we’ve got to put our best foot forward,” said Montgomery. “We’re going to try and play as many guys as we can, but understand we have problems in certain situations with depth.”
Coach Montgomery spoke a lot about pad level after the loss. What does that mean to the average fan?
“Playing low, everyone can give that lip service, but you have to physically strike people with low pad level,” explained Montgomery. “A lot of times in the game, their eye level was lower than our eye level. It doesn’t matter if a guy is 6’5 or 5’10 or 5’11. It’s all about your stance and how you come out of your stance and how you strike.”
Montgomery continued with what was very similar to a football/science explanation.
“What we try to teach is eyes below their eyes,” he said. “In a lot of situations, when you go back and look at the game and see what I mean, the one-on-one situations that I’m talking about are not on the perimeter. Everyone in the stadium can see some of those one-on-one battles, but there are one-on-one battles that you have to have in the interior just to protect the quarterback because of the quarterback being the last player on the offense. To protect him in those one-on-one battles, we didn’t win them because of pad level.”
So pad level and special teams changes were the ideas to consider as this team moves on.
“We will address that and we’ve addressed it before, but when you go against teams that have great collective habits and you have great collective habits and they meet and their eyes are below your eyes, you know that you haven’t met the standard. We have to continue to push forward to meet the standard that we’re going to play against a lot of good football teams.”
Next up is Central Florida. We all know what happened the last time the Knights came to Greenville. Justin Holman fired up a prayer on the last play of the game. Breshad Perriman came down with it for the stunning 32-30 win.
For my money it was the beginning of the end of the Ruffin McNeill era at East Carolina.
That’s history, though. McNeill and UCF’s George O’Leary won’t face one another this time out. Now its Coach Mo and Coach [Scott] Frost, the latter the former Oregon assistant brought in to turn things around in Orlando.
The Pirates will have the home field advantage. That could be enough because Coach Montgomery says his team needs to play on its own turf this week.
“We needed to return home,” said Montgomery. “It’s time for us to be at home. I think Virginia Tech’s fans were very intelligent in the way that they went about the game. They did feed off their crowd momentum and I thought that their team enjoyed playing. We use them as an example of how we played at times when we played at Dowdy-Ficklen. We have to be prepared to go and go at a high level.”
October brings with it new opportunity.
The chase for the American championship begins in Greenville for East Carolina this week.