One of the most bizarre seasons that I can remember is now past the halfway mark, and the problems that have plagued this East Carolina football team in 2016 continue.
Most notably the Pirates have one of the best offenses in the nation, until they venture into the red zone. I’ve written before that’s the “dread zone” or “dead zone” for the Pirates, and the problems continued in the loss to Cincinnati.
East Carolina has the 9th best offense in the NCAA statistics. ECU is 5th in the nation in passing, even with Phillip Nelson not at one hundred percent for the better part of the last couple of games before the Cincinnati loss.
“Offensively, we are moving the ball up and down the field and had a great day from a yardage standpoint,” said Pirate coach Scottie Montgomery. “But the name of the game is points per game. The turnovers are also having a direct impact on the scoreboard. I think Jimmy Williams is continuing to grow as a consistent playmaker and we are also seeing the benefit of moving James Summers to the running back position. He has helped our run game quite a bit.”
Summers was a big plus, but he pulled himself out of the game on that critical drive in the fourth quarter. That’s when Anthony Scott fumbled away a chance for a Pirate victory. Scott’s fumbling problems have him on the bench for now, with former South Central star Shawn Furlow expected to see action.
It’s really difficult to be dead last in any NCAA category, but the Pirates have somehow managed the feat times two. ECU also is dead last in the nation in sacking the quarterback. The Pirates have one sack, against North Carolina State, for the entire season. East Carolina is averaging a paltry .14 sacks per game. At this rate we’ll at least see one more before the end of the season.
It’s not just sacks. The Pirates have failed to put any real pressure on the quarterback all season. Throwing the football is much easier when you can sip tea and scan the field at the same time.
“We have to be able to generate a pass rush more with the people on our defensive line than calls,” explained Montgomery. “Those calls are stressful. I have a 19-year old out at corner right now who is playing as hard as he can. When he is in coverage for 3.2 or 3.3 seconds, people don’t understand how long a time that is before the ball comes out. This isn’t the NFL where you can sign guys in free agency. It is our job to make the guys we have here better.”
Next up is a Connecticut team that comes to Greenville with their its set of problems. The Huskies are 3-5 and lost at home this past weekend to Central Florida in American play.
“Offensively, they are not the UConn I remember from a few years back where they get into 12 personnel and come downhill the whole time,” explained Montgomery. “They have added some nice pieces to the puzzle. Noel Thomas, Jr., is a fantastic player. He accounts for about 60-70 percent of their offense in the passing game. I think he has 70 or more receptions at this time of the year, which is very hard to do.”
I believe this is another game that is more about East Carolina than about the opposition. The Pirates have problems, severe problems, on both sides of the football. The special teams were better the last time out, but had it not been for a penalty on a return then we would have been talking about those deficiencies as well.
If the field were 80 yards long, the Pirates would be unbeaten, or at the very least have just one loss. The old saying goes that if ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas. Right now Christmas will be anything but merry for the Pirates.
As an optimist I say there is still time. Scottie Montgomery laid out the framework of the problems. How he and his staff go about fixing things in the coming weeks will determine just how many wins the Pirates can record before the season comes to an end.