There is really no way to sugar-coat it. The Pirates are on a three-game losing streak and the schedule isn’t going to help matters.
East Carolina’s problems on special teams and inside the red zone reared their ugly heads again this week in a 47-29 loss to Central Florida to open play in the American Athletic Conference.
Five turnovers are five too many for Pirate coach Scottie Montgomery. Where those turnovers are occurring simply adds insult to injury.
“The numbers that jumped off the stat sheet at me was the reason why the game was not won and that was five turnovers,” said Montgomery at Monday’s weekly news conference. “Five turnovers to their two turnovers that our defense did a good job of creating. The penalty discipline that we talk about for our team all the time — you wouldn’t think you’d lose a game that you committed two penalties for 15 yards, and your opponent has 10 for 92 (yards), or you outgain your opponent 521-373. I think our lack of success in the red zone is directly connected to us turning the football over.”
The Pirates got off to a great start on Saturday. Phillip Nelson hit Deondre Farrier from 16-yards out for a touchdown a 7-0 lead.
The crowd was fired up and celebrating when Adrian Killins fielded the ensuing kick-off three yards deep into the end zone. He raced 103 yards (officially 100 yards) for a touchdown, and UCF would take control of the game.
The Knights knocked out quarterback Phillip Nelson late in the third period. That’s when the Pirates finally got a spark.
Backup quarterback Gardner Minshew, with his red-shirt burning as he threw, connected with Quay Johnson on a 75- yard touchdown strike that cut the Knight’s lead to 23-21.
Hope returned for about :53. UCF went right down the field and scored a touchdown. Gardner was then picked off by big Brendon Hayes and hope had retreated for good.
Somehow, the Pirates went from down 23-21 to start the 4th quarter, to losing 47-29.
The loss negated another outstanding day from receiver Zay Jones. Jones caught 17 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. Jones currently leads the nation in total receptions. He’s 4th in receiving yards and 5th in receiving yards per game. He’s having an All-American season just like his Dad, Robert, did as a Pirate linebacker in 1991.
Unfortunately some of the other national statistics are just as amazing, but in an opposite way.
East Carolina is 127th of 128 teams in turnover margin and red zone efficiency. The Pirates are also 126th in punt returns, 125th in punt return defense, and absolutely dead last, 128th in the nation, in sacks.
Add it all up, and it’s a bit of a surprise that ECU has a pair of wins on the season over Western Carolina and North Carolina State.
From UCF the Pirates go to USF. The names may look similar, but this South Florida football team is much better on paper than what ECU saw last weekend.
The Bulls are coming off a 45-20 win on the road at Cincinnati to open play in the American Athletic Conference. They run a spread option attack and have averaged over 45 points per game, which ranks 5th nationally.
It will take a much better effort than we’ve seen the last three weeks for East Carolina to pull out a win in this one. However, this is a Pirate program that has, through the years, bounced back just when you think they don’t have a chance.