Hurricane Irma has impacted East Carolina football after all. With the rescheduling of South Florida’s game at Connecticut from Sept. 9 to Oct. 28, the Pirates will travel to UConn for a noon kickoff on Sunday, Sept. 24, rather than Nov. 4, as originally planned. ECU’s game at Houston has been moved from Oct. 28 to Nov. 4.
The Pirates originally had a bye week before hosting preseason American Athletic Conference favorite South Florida in ECU’s league opener on Sept. 30.
Now the Pirates will have a short week before playing the Bulls.
It may work out for the Pirates to play the Huskies earlier though. It probably won’t be as cold on the new date in New England as it would have been on Nov. 4. Maybe ECU will catch the Huskies before the kinks are worked out following a coaching transition that brought Randy Edsall back to UConn.
The Pirates had four sacks and were 5-for-5 in the red zone in a 41-3 homecoming win over the Huskies last season, ECU’s only AAC win in 2016.
The Pirates now have an open date on Oct. 28, the week after playing nonconference opponent Brigham Young in Greenville on Oct. 21.
The change means ECU will not have back-to-back road games at any point during the 2017 regular season. The bye week now comes before the longest trip on the schedule.
Defensive coordinator change
On Sunday afternoon after the Pirates had fallen to 0-2, it was announced that defensive line coach and associate head coach Robert Prunty was replacing Kenwick Thompson as defensive coordinator. Thompson was reassigned, according to an athletic media relations release.
“When we say reassigned, it was one of those situations where we were going to give him the ability to work in football, not necessarily in any of our [position group] rooms,” said ECU coach Scottie Montgomery. “He’s not going to be coaching any of our kids. . . . He won’t be in the coaching process of our kids. That’s pretty much all I can say.”
The change means new responsibilities for some younger staffers.
” . . . Kenwick didn’t necessarily coach a position,” Montgomery said. “He had one position he was basically coaching, the nickels (Pirate hybrid linebacker/defensive back position). He spent a lot of time at the Pirate position. Now that we’ve taken him out, we just had to give Brandon Lynch (secondary coach) that nickel position. I really wanted to see a lot of Damon Magazu (defensive graduate assistant) because I thought he was turning into a great, young coach so we gave Damon, he and Brandon together, the ability to coach the safeties. Magazu will be doing a lot more with our safeties.
“To relieve some of the stress in the linebacker area, now Ryan Anderson (inside linebackers coach) will be in the run game, coaching some of those Pirates and the linebackers in the run game. We wanted to alleviate some of that stress so we wanted to go with Coach [David] Mackie (quality control coordinator/defense) helping at the will linebacker position. Coach Prunty will still coach the defensive line. He’ll be helped by Brandon Williams (defensive graduate assistant). Now Coach Prunty will call the defense. What we were able to do with it was we’ll be able to use some guys that we really thought were great coaches, give them a bigger and better role. It’s one of those situations where it’s great to feel included.
“A lot of our energy is not only coming from a new direction, but it’s coming from guys that are fresh in the business that really want to make a name for themselves and are now getting the opportunity and chance to coach as hard as they can coach. I think it also bridges the gap between some of our coaches and our players and the age gap that we have. We saw a lot of energy.”
Montgomery had to do what he felt was best for the program.
“Let me say I love Kenwick Thompson,” Montgomery said. “He’s a great football coach. It just didn’t work out here. It was really hard for me to make that decision. But I made that decision for the betterment of the entire team. That’s what you have to do sometimes when you sit in my seat.”
Uncertainty at quarterback
Thomas Sirk did not play after throwing a 19-yard scoring pass to Jimmy Williams with 7:55 left in the third quarter in a 56-20 loss at West Virginia last week. Sirk took a hard hit on the play and has been in concussion protocol.
His status for a Saturday game at 3:30 p.m. at home against Virginia Tech (2-0) has not been determined.
“[Tuesday], he did not practice,” Montgomery said. “He is symptom-free, but we still have to get him out on the field. We’re going to get him on the field and let him work through it. The hard part about this is that we had a similar situation with a kid that was symptom-free, (Philip) Nelson last year. He went out the next game and got dinged early, and we ended up losing him for a few games really.
“I’m going to have to use my history a little bit and see if it’s one of those similar situations or we feel really good about where Thomas is. We put his helmet back on Wednesday. That’s another task for us, wearing that helmet the whole day, and just seeing how he feels before we know anything more.”
Sirk was not allowed to have contact on Wednesday.
“That’s part of the protocol,” Montgomery said. “No one can touch him. He can’t be hit whatsoever. He can’t even be thudded up a little bit. We’ll find out a little more.”
Montgomery said Sirk could have contact today although Friday practices are generally light, relatively speaking.
“We go fast on Friday,” Montgomery said. “There can be some incidental contact. . . . He may put his shoulder pads on and just get fit up a couple of times to see how he feels, but not a whole lot of contact on Friday. . . . There’s a huge possibility that he does play Saturday. There’s also a possibility that he doesn’t play.”
If Sirk is out, then Gardner Minshew would start and Reid Herring would be the back-up. Minshew had the longest scoring pass in ECU history last week, a 95-yarder to Trevon Brown.
“Reid got the second reps [Tuesday] in practice,” Montgomery said. “Reid is talented. He’s been in the system a year now. . . . I’m not close to saying that Thomas is not going to play. Probably, there’s a little bit better chance that he does play than he doesn’t play but that’s all speculation.”
Tackling to the ground
Prunty’s tenure as defensive coordinator really got going with a physical practice on Tuesday.
Full-scale tackling in practice has diminished in college football because of safety concerns.
“We go to the ground on Tuesdays with our scout team, cut blocking and going to the ground for about a period,” Montgomery said. ” . . . Usually no one goes to the ground during the season. We actually go to the ground more in preseason camp than anybody. We carry our pads more than any other time here. We did have some of that Tuesday. It was physical, just with the new energy on defense.”
The Pirates actually did some extra full-tackling on Tuesday as Montgomery said the defense was energized in its session with the scout team.
Joe Carter’s case
Special teams performer Joe Carter will be available Saturday despite being ejected in the first half of the game at West Virginia for a targeting call as Carter was covering a punt.
“When you get ejected in the first half, you lose the next half,” Montgomery said. “It’s critical. I just thought the process of how it happened — it’s very hard on these young players — you’re running down at 23, 24 miles per hour and the guy catches the ball and lowers the target. I’m not questioning the call whatsoever. It’s just very hard to police on both sides and to coach. That kid did what we asked him to do, keep your eyes up, your face up and try to lower the target and tackle and not launch and yet he was hit with a targeting.
“Later in the game, there was another one where they cracked back on [Corey Seargent] that wasn’t deemed targeting. It’s really hard to know. That wasn’t an official call. That went to the review policy of the Big 12. That was buzzed up to them. It was what they had the ability to see.”
Montgomery would like to see a distinction in the targeting fouls that are accompanied by ejection.
“It’s one of those situations where if there’s a flagrant and there’s one that just kind of happened, I don’t know if we should penalize them on the same level because if one is with malicious intent and one is without malicious intent, it’s two totally different deals,” Montgomery said. “It’s really hard for me to understand why you would penalize those guys, suspend them, the same way.
“I want it called. There’s no question about it. When I have to respond to a kid’s parent on why a kid is not able to play — and we have to do this — why the rules are the way they are. We have to give them concrete reasons. Then when I respond to a parent that calls me and asks me, ‘Why was my kid targeted and nothing happened?’ I have to give them the reason as well. They don’t want to hear any excuse why this or that. A parent has the right to know and so does the kid.”
Montgomery ultimately felt the correct calls were made on the field.
” . . . I was upset and angry at the officials, but there was really no need for me to be mad at the officials for the call where I felt like one of our kids had gotten targeted because they did their job,” said the Pirates coach. “They threw the flag and the review process removed the call. As mad as I wanted to be at the official part of it, they did their job. That’s just one of those deals where they did their job. . . . It was our crew (American Athletic Conference) working the game but it was their [Big 12] review officials.
“That was our crew that threw the flag. However, it was their crew that reviewed the flag. Whatever they saw, they deemed it as incidental head contact. When I heard incidental head contact, I think that’s exactly what happened to Joe Carter. That’s tough but the officials on the field did the right deal in both situations in my belief by throwing the flag.
“At that point in time, I think both of them should have went to review and I would have liked for Joe’s to be overturned, too. These opportunities for kids to play games, you don’t get those opportunities back. It’s exactly what we’ve coached our kid to do — lower the target, keep your head up, don’t put your head down. When you put your head down, you can cause serious injury to yourself as well. To get on the side and to move your head down and put it to the side, when you do that, it’s really tough. When you keep your facemask up on the target and you lower the target, it’s one of the safest ways to go tackle somebody.
“I’m just not going to tell our guys to put their helmet down to go the side because if the target moves and they get hit right in the top of the head, I’m not going to put our kids in that type of danger. I love our kids too much to change the way we coach that. I’m just upset that they lose games if they do it a certain way.”
Clemson graduate transfer running back Tyshon Dye did not get a touch in a season-opening 34-14 loss to James Madison. His 14 carries at WVU produced 71 yards.
“He had a great day of practice Tuesday,” Montgomery said. “He’s starting to get his legs under him. What you don’t see is a guy that’s slowing. He gets better and better as the game goes on. We’re going to continue to find ways to get our big-time players the ball. We’ve got a little bit different scheme we’re facing this week with Bud Foster (Virginia Tech defensive coordinator), but we’re still going to try to get him going, get Derrell [Scott] back going. We thought that Hussein [Howe] had a great game.
“We thought he ran the ball well and effectively. What you saw was the offensive line got a little bit better. They got a lot better actually from the last game. . . . They didn’t give up any sacks and they created some lanes to run in. Going against a Big 12 opponent, we’re going to continue to get better.
“These are the perfect tests for us. Our kids are now starting to say exactly that. These are the perfect tests for us because now they know and they’re starting to feel a little bit more confident after the way they played in the second half. We were challenging them in the second half. We’re trying to put on some steam defensively. I think the transition and leadership helped us put on some steam.”
The Pirates were outscored 49-3 in the first half. ECU managed to outscore the Mountaineers 17-7 after intermission.
Important factors vs. Virginia Tech
The loss at WVU is a little scary, especially considering the Hokies topped the Mountaineers 31-24 at a neutral site to open the season.
“First thing, we’ve got to see the punter early,” Montgomery said when asked about important factors this week. “We’ve got to see their punter early. We’ve got to get some stops. I don’t mean three and outs. I mean we’ve got to see their punter early. It doesn’t mean if we don’t get a three and out, we’re being unsuccessful. We’ve just got to get a stop to see him punt the ball, no matter how far he punts it.
“The next thing we do, we’ve got to make sure we contain the quarterback (Josh Jackson). We can’t let him run all over the field on us and create because he’s such a winner. He’s such a student of the game. He has a great football pedigree. I just love what he stands for on the field. I don’t know him very much off the field but I’m sure he’s a great kid by the way that he plays the game. We’ve got to contain him. We’ve also got to keep a lid on No. 5. (wide receiver Cam Phillips) — we’ve definitely got to stay on top of No. 5 in the passing game. We’ve got to keep that run game locked down to the box.
“Special teams we’ve got to do what we’re doing every day in practice. We’ve got to go out and execute the game plan. This is a great special teams team. If we’re saying we’re going to kick the ball to the left hash, the ball has to land on the left hash. If we’re saying we’re going to get every one of our punts off in 1.98 (seconds), we need to get off in 1.98 every single time in practice. We have to execute and understand that practice makes permanent. We’re going to get exactly what we do in practice.
“On offense, the first thing we’ve got to do, we’ve got to protect our quarterback. That’s the first thing that we have to do, protect our quarterback. Our backs have to respect the ball. No team goes after the ball and plays as hard as this defensive team. I’ve been against this defensive team for four straight years. They do the same things every year. They run after the ball. They chase the ball. They tackle the ball well. They go after the ball. This is a great football team. Our backfield, our receivers, our tight ends, they’ve got to take care of the football, respect the ball.
“Finally, the 50-50 balls that we’re going to have down the field and over the middle, we have to come down with those 50-50 balls.
“Those are the keys to success for us this week.”