TULSA, OK — On the cusp of the time change, East Carolina just had a hard time at Tulsa.
The Pirates were living on Tulsa time from the outset as an early 14-0 deficit signaled trouble for ECU at H.A. Chapman Stadium on Saturday night.
The Pirates tried to keep up with the Golden Hurricane’s offensive production by changing quarterbacks but Tulsa ended a six-game losing streak to ECU with a 45-24 win.
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Tulsa 45, East Carolina 24 | Nov. 5, 2016
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“It wasn’t just us playing from behind,” said Pirates coach Scottie Montgomery. “That team was a good football team. They executed well. … We had some great opportunities to execute, especially in the first half. We just didn’t execute.”
ECU came in as the American Athletic Conference leader in offense at 503.3 yards per game but was outgained, 616-474.
It was an uncharacteristic performance in some areas by the Pirates, who slipped to 3-6 overall and 1-4 in the league, in terms of penalties.
ECU drew 13 flags for 113 yards. Both numbers were easily highs in the Scottie Montgomery coaching era.
A Pirates assistant, Deke Adams, defensive line coach, was even called for unsportsmanlike conduct. Montgomery said Adams was calling in a defensive alignment change that the unit was communicating. Officials said the Pirates were trying to confuse Tulsa’s snap count.
“We don’t do that,” Montgomery said.
Playing free of penalties is a cornerstone in the foundation Montgomery is seeking to build.
“The penalties, I take that personally,” Montgomery said. “Anybody that knows me knows that discipline is right at the forefront. I’ve never seen that many penalties in a game, whether it was us or them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game where they had 23 penalties in one game.”
Montgomery said 13 penalties was his team’s normal quota for a four-game span.
“We’ve got to clean up our penalty discipline,” said the ECU coach. “I need to go back and take a look at a lot of it on tape.”
Montgomery thought the Pirates had a good week of practice.
“We didn’t come out and deliver,” he said.
ECU turned to sophomore Gardner Minshew at quarterback with Tulsa (7-2, 4-1) leading 17-7 late in the first half.
Minshew came on to complete 29 of 49 passes for 336 yards with one touchdown. He was sacked three times. Senior Philip Nelson completed nine of 13 for 100 yards with a score. Montgomery said Nelson had a shoulder ailment that limited his practice time before the trip to Tulsa.
“[Minshew] threw it a lot because we were playing from behind,” Montgomery said. ” . . . The difference in the game was the line of scrimmage. Look at the rushing yards.”
James Flanders ran for 181 yards on 28 carries with two TDs for Tulsa. Teammate D’Angelo Brewer ran 23 times for 180 yards with one score.
Dane Evans of the Golden Hurricane balanced the ground attack by completing 22 of 38 passes for 274 yards with three touchdowns. Josh Atkinson had 10 catches for 123 yards with a pair of scores.
“We knew they were going to be really good in their offensive front with their offensive scheme and we just didn’t match it at all,” Montgomery said.
One factor in the quarterback situation is whether Nelson will be able to practice effectively.
“He didn’t get very much practice time this week,” Montgomery said. “He practiced on Friday. That was basically his only day. He had a little bit of a shoulder issue. I didn’t think he was sharp at certain times. There was some throws I didn’t like and there was some movement in the pocket that I thought the pocket was OK. We just made a decision . . . to try to give Gardner an opportunity.
“We’ll go back and look at the tape. I just think it had a lot to do with [Nelson’s] sharpness at the beginning of the game. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get him back, get him practicing the whole week, but, all in all, we’re always evaluating every position.”
The Pirates host Southern Methodist on Saturday at noon, play Navy at home on Nov. 19 and travel to Temple on Nov. 26. ECU will need to win its three remaining regular-season games to become bowl eligible but Montgomery is not focusing on a postseason trip.
“We’re playing one game at a time,” he said. “We don’t think about [a bowl] right now. We’ve got to start playing consistent football, week after week after week.”
ECU was coming off a 41-3 homecoming win over Connecticut that stopped a five-game losing streak.
“After last week, we felt like we played a really consistent game,” Montgomery said. “We did use the energy from the crowd but there were times in this game that I thought we had some momentum rolling and we made a mistake here or we made a mistake there. Coverage broke down here. We got a call that we disagreed with or we got a call that was correct. You just can’t have that.”
East Carolina changed quarterbacks but Zay Jones continued to catch passes.
Jones broke the ECU and AAC records for catches in a season with his 122nd reception of the year late in the third quarter.
He finished with 13 catches for 206 yards, the latter figure a career high.
Jones moved his career catches total to 368. He is second on the Football Bowl Subdivision list to former Pirate teammate Justin Hardy, who finished his college career in 2014 with 387.
Minshew drove ECU for a score to start the second half that cut Tulsa’s lead to 24-14. Minshew had a 20-yard completion to Jimmy Willliams to the Tulsa 46. Williams was helped off the field after the play but returned.
Jones had an 11-yard catch to tie Hardy for the ECU and AAC record for receptions in a season with 121.
Quay Johnson had a 13-yard catch to get ECU into the red zone and a reverse carry by Deondre Farrier took the Pirates from the Tulsa 18 to the 1-yard line. James Summers extended into the end zone on the next play.
The Golden Hurricane responded with a scoring drive to go ahead, 31-14.
Minshew and Summers each took some snaps on ECU’s second possession of the second half which culminated with a 39-yard field goal by Davis Plowman to cut Tulsa’s lead to 31-17 with 7:02 left in the third quarter.
The Golden Hurricane used play action effectively as Evans found Atkinson for a 64-yard touchdown and a 38-17 lead with 6:01 to go in the third.
Some factors going into the matchup at H.A. Chapman Stadium included whether the Pirates could slow an offense, which was averaging 42.1 points per game. On the other side of the ball, ECU was facing a defense that was allowing 31.9 points per game, last in the 12-team AAC.
ECU got a late score with Minshew hitting Johnson for a 10-yard touchdown with 27 seconds remaining.
The Pirates had won six straight in the series dating back to a 27-24 win at Tulsa for the Conference USA championship in 2008. ECU picked off five passes in that contest.
An interception set the tone in the Pirates’ 30-17 home win over the Golden Hurricane last season. Josh Hawkins returned a Tulsa pass 100 yards for a touchdown on the visitors’ first possession of the game. ECU won although Tulsa had a 463-382 lead in total offense.
Neither team had a turnover on Saturday night.
ECU’s streak against the Golden Hurricane included a 51-49 home win in Ruffin McNeill’s first game as head coach in 2010. The Conference USA conquest was provided by a Hail Mary pass from Dominique Davis to Justin Jones.
The teams are within the AAC framework now with the Golden Hurricane tied with Navy for the West Division lead. Tulsa visits the Midshipmen next week before Navy comes to Greenville for a makeup game the following week.