Schedule change swayed Montgomery’s thinking
GREENVILLE — Coach Scottie Montgomery said earlier in the week that Thomas Sirk would start at quarterback for East Carolina against Virginia Tech if the team’s doctors allowed it.
Sirk, who was in the Pirates’ concussion protocol after taking a hard hit to the head in last week’s loss at West Virginia, was cleared to return to practice on Wednesday and was in uniform at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday.
But Montgomery decided not to use him, erring on the side of caution for both the health of his player and the long-term prospects of his team.
“If he would have gotten hit at all or gotten dinged at all, because of concussion protocol, we could have lost him for up to 2-3 weeks,” Montgomery said. “As the week went on I stayed close to him. I wanted to hear what the doctors had to say.”
Sirk has experience playing and beating the Hokies, having led Duke to a four-overtime win in Blacksburg in 2015. The graduate transfer scored the deciding two-point conversion on a tough run in traffic that day.
Because of that experience and the fact that Sirk had been green-lighted by ECU’s medical staff, Montgomery said he’d all but decided to play the former Blue Devils this week. But that decision changed because of an unforeseen circumstance Thursday morning.
And it had nothing to with Sirk’s medical condition.
When the American Athletic Conference announced a series of schedule changes, brought about by the effects of Hurricane Irma, ECU went from having a bye week to playing its conference opener at UConn next weekend.
In the end, Montgomery decided it was more important to have his best quarterback ready for a game that mattered in the AAC standings than one against a nonconference opponent.
“The schedule change had a little bit to do with it,” Montgomery said. “If we’d have had a two-week deal, he might have played. Might. But it still went back to me protecting him as a player and a student-athlete.
“As soon as I heard that the potential of getting dinged would hurt him even worse, that changed things a little bit.”
With Sirk on the sideline, junior Gardner Minshew got his second start in three games this season and the fourth of his Pirates’ career.
He got off to a hot star by completing seven of his first 11 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns in leading his team to a 17-7 lead. One of the scores was a 76-yard strike to wide receiver Trevon Brown, who last week set a school record with a 95-yard touchdown against West Virginia.
But in the three quarters that followed, Minshew went just 4 of 19 for 46 yards and an interception before being lifted in favor of Reid Herring for the final few possessions. His 241 passing yards in the game were still a career-high as a starter.
“It was good and we got going. Then it all just stopped,” Minshew said. “We were right there. It’s our own fault. We kind of got out of it and took ourselves out of the game basically.”
Montgomery attributed the sudden change in offensive fortunes to a lack of a running game — the Pirates netted only 40 yards on the ground on 31 tries, with Tyshon Dye leading the way with 31 yards — along with adjustments made by Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
“Offensively the pass game will be great if we can generate a run game,” Montgomery said, adding, “Coach Foster did a good job of understanding why were much more aggressive. (He was like): ‘We’re going to try to pressure the quarterback and force him into situations where even if he completes the ball, I’m going to hit him.’
“It puts the pressure on us saying, okay, you’ve got one quarterback in there and one quarterback on the sideline. How much are you going to let him sit back there and take shots? In the end, it made it tough to get anything going in the passing game after we were so successful being aggressive earlier.”