Comedian W.C. Fields once said that he spent a week in Philadelphia one night. A 37-10 loss to Temple in the City of Brotherly Love on Saturday night continued weeks of frustration for East Carolina.
The best thing about the matchup with the Owls was that it ended the agony of a prolonged struggle. The ECU coaching staff can get busy recruiting.
Four straight losses to end 2016 put the Pirates at 3-9 overall and 1-7 in the American Athletic Conference.
The players who spoke outside the visitors’ locker room at Lincoln Financial Field were seniors. They expressed their disappointment but also shared their hope for the future of the program.
“I don’t think anybody wants to go out their senior year with a record like ours,” said senior linebacker Cam White. “Honestly, I don’t think it’s hit me yet. The loss sucks. It sucks as much as all the other losses. I really don’t think the full impact of the end of the season has hit me yet.”
The Pirates went through a coaching transition after going 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the AAC in 2015 before Scottie Montgomery replaced Ruffin McNeill.
“It’s just an adjustment is all it is,” White said. “There were deficiencies at certain positions that prior defenses and offenses covered up. . . . Next year, when everybody knows their job better, they know what entails their position, what’s expected of them, like fully. . . . ”
System adjustments may have been an underappreciated factors in performance this year.
“We installed our defense four times this season,” White said. “I did more studying for play calling this year than I did my past four years combined. I know for a fact if that includes me, that includes other people, too, because I know people were in the film room more than I was but we were still just unsure at times.”
Depth issues were cited by Montgomery in ECU’s decline. White said that wasn’t a factor for the guys on the field.
“Honestly, I don’t think we noticed it too much,” White said. “We had a lot of young guys step up. A lot of young guys are going to be really good the coming seasons. . . . Maybe it limited us to not running certain personnel groupings because when there’s more D-linemen on the field, obviously, they’re going to get tired.”
White said he thought the seniors were a positive influence on younger players.
“I think we did a great job honestly,” White said. “I feel like all of the seniors handled the transition extremely well for a whole new coaching staff. If we can do it and buy in totally like we did that just paves the way for them.”
Montgomery said after the Temple game that the Pirates never really recovered from a 54-17 loss at Virginia Tech the fourth game of the season.
“No, I don’t necessarily agree with that,” White said. “We had that one game that wasn’t so good but I thought our games before that were good. We had good showings. I don’t think we’ve ever been a team that hinges on that one loss too much.”
J.T. Boyd made his 35th start for the Pirates at Temple. He has seen some ups and downs during his career, mostly downs as a senior.
“I think we had spurts of what we could be and what we should have been,” Boyd said of 2016. “We were just very inconsistent. Just about every game we had inconsistencies where we’d be in the game and then we would just throw it all down the drain in a matter of two to three series.”
Boyd thinks the program will recover.
“I think once they get the kinks out, the growing pains are out, I think they’re going to hit the ground running this offseason,” Boyd said. “They’re going to get some new guys in with new recruits. I think they’re going to work their tails off this offseason, do whatever they can to correct what was a mishap this season.
“We’ve got a good group behind us. We’ve got people that care, people that are hurt by being 3-9 just like us seniors are. I definitely think we got the growing pains out. There’s probably a little bit more that’s needed to kink out but for the most part, they’re going to focus on being consistent, having the fundamentals down. I think next year is going to be a different story.”
Boyd was asked what caused the inconsistencies.
“We had a bunch of mental lapses,” he said. “I really don’t know what to blame that on but we know where it’s coming from. The fact that it’s mental lapses, people just have to take initiative, get in the play book and learn it.
“If they don’t they won’t play because I know there’s young guys here that have plenty of talent and they’re hungry to play. They’ve just got through their redshirt year. They’re going to be eligible to play and they’re going to be fighting for that spot, too. So if they don’t know it, they’re not going to play.”
Boyd talked about the value of the total experience of playing for ECU.
“Being a Pirate taught me how to handle adversity,” Boyd said. “It gave me an extended family, a brotherhood. I have guys that I can depend on for life. They’re there for me. I’m there for them. It really taught me a bunch of life lessons. . . . You’ve got to push through the tough times, kind of like we did all year this year.”
His message to younger guys was simple.
“Keep your head down and work,” Boyd said. “Not much talking needs to be said. We’re 3-9. That kind of speaks for itself. Work your tail off. Try and get better. Improve next year, get to a bowl game, get back to being a conference powerhouse, kind of like how Temple has been the past couple of years and a bunch of other teams we play. The 3-9 record speaks for itself.”
Zay Jones provided highlights as he reset the Football Bowl Subdivision records for catches in a career (399) and catches in a season (158) during his final campaign as a Pirate.
The latter mark came without significant fanfare in the second quarter at Temple.
“It’s difficult,” Jones said of the circumstances. “You want to celebrate some of the things that you’re able to do, that you accomplished, but just such a rough season, not the way, that we, of course, wanted to end it. It’s difficult.
“I saw a lot of pain in the eyes of some senior guys that just really hurt, including myself, so I don’t want to think about myself too much right now because there’s a lot going on, a lot of people are hurting, coaches included. It’s just difficult right now.”
Jones was at a loss to explain ECU’s inconsistencies.
“I can’t pinpoint one thing,” he said. “We had so many spurts and moments where we’ve done great things and then, of course, some unfortunate things that have happened to us. I can’t pinpoint one thing. We just didn’t put it all together. It sucks to think that way. You get to the end of the season and you hope each week that it gets better but it didn’t happen that way for us this year.”
Jones had seven catches for 61 yards in his last college game, good numbers for most players but a subpar performance for him.
“Temple did a good job,” Jones said. “They played well. They had some schemes and some coverages that were difficult to read and to pick up on that I’d never seen before. They were moving guys in different spots but we still had opportunities.”
ECU moved 58 yards in 11 plays to score on its first possession on a 13-yard pass from Gardner Minshew to Jimmy Williams for a 7-0 lead.
“We drove the ball the first drive,” Jones said. “We showed people we could do it. We had some unfortunate snaps. I guess some errors with the O-line, some things with receivers not finishing plays, including myself. We had self-inflicted wounds that hurt us.”
The Owls had a 27-7 lead in the fourth quarter before the Pirates scored again. A lost fumble by ECU late in the first half was capitalized on for a score and a 21-7 lead at the break for the hosts. The only turnover of the game kept the Pirates from being within one score or better at halftime.
Temple played well and was opportunistic.
“You can’t discredit Temple,” Jones said. “They’re a good football team. They’re going to the (AAC) championship so good for them.”
The Owls (9-3) visit Navy (9-2) for the league championship at noon Saturday.
Outcomes will be secondary as Jones looks back on his career at ECU
“Just the relationships that I’ve built, all the people that I’ve met along the way and everything I’ve taken from them,” Jones said. “Not even just football-related, just being a human, just being a person. The relationships that I’ve built with coaches and players along this journey.”
His second FBS record didn’t measure up to the production that accompanied the career mark at ECU a week earlier.
“I didn’t realize it … but it was really great to have that moment,” Jones said. “I wish it could have been at home to celebrate with my home crowd but I was able to do that last week.”