Struggling East Carolina certainly isn’t giving Pirate Nation reason to come to the home finale this week.
The same plot we’ve seen all season reared its ugly head again on Saturday as Southern Methodist came to town and put a 55-31 thumping on the Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The 55 points were the fifth most ever scored by an East Carolina opponent at the stadium. The program that owns two of the other four slots comes to town this week.
None of us will ever forget the 76 points Navy laid on ECU back in 2010. It was as bad of a loss as the Pirates have ever had.
This year Navy arrives in Greenville with a sparkling 7-2 record and with its sights set on an American Athletic Conference title.
The Pirates can’t afford to turn the ball over this week, or this could be another blowout.
The bright spot for this ECU football team is the play of Zay Jones. Jones had 12 more catches this past Saturday and now stands just 8 away from the NCAA’s all-time mark held by former Pirate Justin Hardy.
Jones currently leads the NCAA FBS this season in four categories: receptions (139), receiving yards (1,473), receptions per game (13.9) and receiving yards per game (147.3). He stands fifth on the NCAA FBS single-season receptions chart and needs 17 catches over the next two games to pass current record-holder Freddie Barnes (155/Bowling Green/2009).
Zay has formally been recognized as a Heisman Trophy candidate and is now a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation’s best receiver.
Zay Jones would rather win.
“It’s sort of hollow,” said Jones after Saturday’s loss to SMU. “We are here to win football games, and we just didn’t get it done.”
Pirate fans will get a chance to be a part of history on Saturday. Zay’s eighth catch will be the record breaker. Justin Hardy will be in town to be a part of the festivities. Quarterback Shane Carden is also expected to take part.
If you know Zay Jones you know he would certainly sacrifice the record for a championship.
“There’s no question about it,” said first year head coach Scottie Montgomery. “There are a lot of things that we want to do better. In the middle of it all, I see the shining light that Zay has been in. I know it’s been tough for him and it’s especially tough when you’re a senior. It would probably be a lot different for him if he was a junior and having this type of success, but I see what he’s doing and I respect it.”
For Jones to get the record he’s going to need a healthy quarterback. Philip Nelson didn’t practice Sunday night. He was pulled from Saturday’s loss and replaced by Gardner Minshew, who took a shot of his own on Saturday.
“I’ll know more about our quarterback situation tomorrow,” said Montgomery. “It’s kind of hard to tell right now. I will say that Gardner was fine. He practiced yesterday. Philip did not practice yesterday. He’s still having a little bit of tenderness in one of his shoulders. We feel like they’ll both be able to practice, but we don’t know completely where the quarterback situation will be until we get to actually see more of a body of work.”
Montgomery blames turnovers for East Carolina’s problems this season. The coach says he’ll go to work early on correcting the problems for the future.
“Research starts with it,” said Montgomery. “The first thing you do is to find a program that has gone through it. You can guess this and try to fix that, but what I’m trying to do is find the programs that have had it, reversed it and what they did. I’ll be on the phone and doing as much research as I can.
“Knowing where the turnovers are coming from is going to be critical and whom they’re coming from. Do we know how they’re coming? Is there a certain part of the field where we’re stacking routes and balls are getting tipped? That’s not what’s happening. Our turnovers, as far as interceptions are concerned, the majority of them have happened outside the hash, which is very unusual.
“When you have them like the two at South Carolina or the two this week [against SMU], those are unusual interceptions. We have a lot of research to do.”
That research starts in two weeks. Until then the Pirate coach hopes to find a big enough Band-Aid to mask the problem and stay competitive against two teams right in the thick of the AAC championship chase.
It won’t be easy, but at least we may get to be a part of history with Zay Jones.