East Carolina has no one to blame but itself for all the opposing receivers it has left wide open, its inability to run the ball and most of the other self-inflicted wounds it has suffered during the first three games of the 2017 football season.
But in a statement of how bad things are going for the Pirates, they can’t even catch a break with the things that are out of their control.
That became painfully evident last week when the American Athletic Conference adjusted the schedules of several schools to make up for postponements caused by Hurricane Irma. Now instead of coming up on a strategically-timed and badly-needed bye week, coach Scottie Montgomery and his wounded team will be heading to East Hartford for an AAC game against Connecticut on Sunday.
In one sense, the change could turned out to be advantageous in that ECU will now begin its league schedule against the team picked to finish last in the East instead of South Florida, the team that was the unanimous choice to win the division.
The Pirates will still play USF at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Sept. 30.
While their chances of actually winning a game and getting off to a 1-0 start in the conference are much more realistic against the rebuilding Huskies than the 21st-ranked Bulls, the mid-season schedule change presents ECU far more disadvantages than advantages.
Most of them deal with the Pirates’ readiness to play, no matter what the opponent.
There’s a reason Montgomery was so excited when he learned about his team’s early week off. He made specific mention of it back on media day in August when asked what he learned most about his rookie season.
“The best thing that happened to us last year was for me to be able to see what it’s like to have to go play N.C. State, South Carolina, Virginia Tech (in consecutive weeks),” he said. “Right then, immediately, I knew what it was going to take for us to do what was most important to us, the AAC title.
“There was a lot that came through some of those games that we just couldn’t get guys back and every time we tried to get them back they weren’t quite ready.”
Having a bye in Week 4, immediately following physically demanding nonconference tests against West Virginia and Virginia Tech, had the Pirates set up perfectly to get rested and healthy for the start of conference play.
Instead they’ll head to UConn uncertain of the status of nearly their entire secondary with Tim Irvin, Korrin Wiggins and Devon Sutton all limping off the field with injuries suffered during Saturday’s 64-17 pounding at the hands of the Hokies and another defensive back — Colby Gore — still involved in ECU’s concussion protocol.
Quarterback Thomas Sirk, who was also in the concussion protocol, figures to be available for Sunday’s game, which is being played on Sunday not Saturday because of stadium availability. But according to Montgomery, he’s already been adversely affected by the schedule change.
“The schedule change had a little bit to do with it,” the coach said after holding Sirk out against Virginia Tech as a precaution, a fact that turned out to be relevant because of starter Gardner Minshew’s struggles over the final three quarters.
“If we’d have had a two-week deal, he might have played. As soon as I heard that the potential of getting dinged would hurt him even worse, that changed things a little bit.”
It was the prudent move.
Better to have a healthy Sirk available for a game that, theoretically, represents a fresh start than one in which the Pirates probably weren’t going to win anyway because of the way their defense was giving up points.
As “difficult” as things have been to this point, to quote a term used by chancellor Cecil Staton this week in his appeal to ECU fans, things won’t look quite so bad if the Pirates can beat UConn and find themselves perched atop the division standings for at least a week.
That may not happen and even if it does, the prosperity isn’t likely to last long.
But why rush things?
There’s plenty enough time left in the season for anger, angst and the calling for people’s jobs if the team doesn’t start to show improvement and the losses keep mounting. Until then, why not cling to a little hope while there’s still a little hope on which to cling?