The open date that resulted from the postponement of the Navy game from Oct. 13 to Nov. 19 has allowed some healing for East Carolina going into Saturday’s 7 p.m. game at Cincinnati. That has led to more productive practices.
“We had a good day of practice on Sunday,” said Pirates coach Scottie Montgomery. “Tuesday, we had some more energy but it’s really going well because this is the first time in a long time where we’ve had our leader on offense and our leader on defense to be at practice on Sunday or a Tuesday or a Wednesday. For the last few weeks and few games that we’ve had to play, [quarterback] Philip [Nelson] and [nose guard] Demetri McGill, neither one have practiced on those first two days of practice.
“For Phil, he’s been coming back on Thursday and then getting a little bit more on Friday. So just having both of our leaders back on both sides of the ball — they push them, they drive them a little bit better when they’re out there. There’s no question about that. To have those guys out there pushing the team, it’s been great. The competition between the offense and defense right now is at such a high level because everyone wants to be the reason why we win.”
Unexpected recruiting period
Much of the ECU coaching staff was busy recruiting at the end of last week.
“It was very productive,” Montgomery said. “We were concerned actually with our original open date (Nov. 19) because that’s the end of the season, whether it had been high school, that’s the end of the season, whether it had been junior college and we wouldn’t have had a chance to go watch people play physically. It’s unfortunate that it happened that way. The tragedy that we had — one benefit out of it all is that our football team had a great amount of time to spend with each other, but our coaches got to go out and see guys physically play on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”
Montgomery stayed home, recruiting in a different sense.
“I did not go out on the road,” said the Pirates coach. “I chose to recruit our team. On Thursday, we watched the N.C. State game (33-30 ECU win on Sept. 10) just as a team and the TV copy just so we could have a good time. We ate together and watched that game.
“Later that evening, we went to a movie, The Magnificent Seven. We gave them a day off on Friday and Saturday. But also, we try to make sure on the open date that our freshmen’s needs are being met. So on Friday we had a freshmen party at my house, where I bring all the freshmen who are in town and can’t go out of town, whether it’s too far away or they didn’t have the transportation. In the situation we were in, we were kind of locked in. The only way you could get out basically was Raleigh. If you were going in any other direction, it was kind of hard to get there so we brought them over to the house.
“The coaches did a good job of recruiting on the road and then I got a chance to recruit the building a little bit.”
Watching win over Wolfpack
The win over State was the high point thus far for ECU. Looking at the tape on Thursday during the bye week may have been like returning to a point of restoration on a balky computer.
“We watched the last time that we thought as a team collectively we played great together,” Montgomery said. “I wanted them to be able to talk and have a good time and talk about what they saw, to speak to each other about the success that they had. So many times, you get so wrapped up into the L [loss] column that you forget about the win column. We wanted to go back. We’ve done a good job I think of making sure we correct some things. I thought our South Florida game, we started to take a turn.
“But we also wanted to make sure that we kind of put a light on the things that they’ve done well. They’ve done some things really well. Unfortunately, there’s things that we haven’t done well. And now, that we get the biggest part of our team back — we’re getting both of our corners back [Colby Gore and Corey Seargent], getting our nose guard back — all back on the field at one time and have everybody readily available. I think it was good to just show positive and get the energy and juice back and that showed on Sunday and Tuesday in practice.”
The NCAA Division I Council proposed two weeks ago adding new football signing periods in June and December. One criticism of the present system is that seniors have to deal with recruiting during their final season on the high school level when they may have already made their college decision.
Montgomery talked about other potential changes, too.
“There are a lot of proposals at this point in time,” Montgomery said. “The recruiting process is changing so fast. We’re getting kids now that you’re talking about 2020 [high school graduating class] kids. The issue is we’re going out on the road but we’re not having enough time on the road. Then, the head coach’s inability to be on the road in the spring — all those things. . . . There’s probably a time where kids have made the decision and now we can get on to the next class in some of those situations with signing periods. They’re looking at a few things and, in the future, there may be some changes. There may also be some changes in how we are able to get on the road.
“This will all have an effect that we don’t know yet. It’s one of those things that if something changes then there’s something else coming behind it so there will be many more changes to come, but I think it will put a little less stress on some of the kids, the student-athletes and I think that’s — at the end of the day what’s most important — so that the kids get what they need. Also, we’ll get a chance to understand the process of where we are in January and February of being able to put together the plan to go back out in the spring.”
Pirates back in quarters
Montgomery said Wednesday that most of the players who had to be relocated due to flooding from Hurricane Matthew had been able to return to their regular living quarters.
“We’re getting close to having everything back to normal,” he said. “There are still a few people who are kind of displaced. For the most part, we’re all back together. The community here has really worked hard to help, not only the surrounding community but our football team as well.
“Our administration here inside the football department and athletic department has done a good job making those guys as comfortable as they possibly can. A lot of our guys were worried but at the end of the day all of our kids are safe and just about all of them are back where they want to be.”
What’s important Saturday night
Big plays and turnovers will be big factors against the Bearcats.
“It comes down to this,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got to create more explosive plays on offense. Then, defensively, we’ve got to eliminate the explosive plays. This is a team that defensively, they’re at double digits in interceptions and they’re at double digits in sacks. We’ve got to take care of the football, there’s no question about it, but we’ve also got to get the ball out of our hand a lot quicker than we have at the quarterback position. As I’ve gone back and looked over the six games, we have sacks that are showing up or interceptions that are showing up or fumbles that are showing up that we are not quite getting the ball out as quickly as I would like to get it done. Protection will help our passing game.
“Defensively, we’ve got to create some more turnovers than we’ve created. We’ve got to get after the quarterback much better. … They’ve given the ball away a little bit but we’ve got to go take the ball away. Those are the keys to victory.”