Of all the disheartening, lopsided losses the East Carolina football team has suffered this season — and there have been a lot of them already — Saturday’s 34-10 clunker against Temple before another sparse gathering at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium probably ranks as the worst yet.
Yes, the opener against James Madison was bad. But at least the Dukes were a national champion last year with most of their best playmakers back.
West Virginia and Virginia Tech are nationally ranked Power 5 teams. South Florida is the preseason American Athletic Conference favorite with a dynamic talent at quarterback.
Temple, on the other hand, is team struggling to find an identity under a new coach, one whose only two wins coming in were against Villanova and UMass and whose offense had managed more than 20 points in a game only once this season.
If ever there was a team tailor-made for helping the Pirates’ defenseless defense look good for a change while giving it some confidence heading into the second half of the schedule, it was the Owls.
They even tried to throw ECU an early bone by missing a field goal and throwing an interception in the red zone. But the Pirates didn’t take advantage of the opportunity they were given to take control of the game.
That was the most disappointing aspect of this latest loss.
Because as shaky as the defense looked at times while surrendering its obligatory 500-plus yards, making a pedestrian quarterback look like a Heisman Trophy candidate and suffering the kind of lapses that led to 24 second quarter points, those things were almost to be expected.
In spite of all that, Robert Prunty’s much-maligned unit still did enough to make this a winnable game if the offense would only have done what it did during the previous two weeks.
Instead it fell flat on its face.
Even good teams aren’t going to win many games in which they amass more than twice the number of penalty yards (96) as rushing yards (34) or convert only 3 of 14 third-down opportunities while the opposition goes 14 of 20. ECU isn’t a good team and it did both Saturday.
The problems, according to coach Scottie Montgomery, were caused by a lack of discipline.
But what exactly does that mean?
It’s a broad definition, according to wide receiver Jimmy Williams.
“It could be taking a play off and it surprises you when (the ball) comes your way or staying in a run fit,” he said. “It could he just watching the ball all the way through the catch. It could be the quarterback putting the ball in a certain spot. We didn’t have it on the plays we needed it … and we need it on every play.”
Williams was as guilty as anyone when it comes to that lack of discipline.
The Pirates had just narrowed the Temple lead to 24-10 and had a chance to get even closer after a rare defensive stop and a 35-yard pass from Thomas Sirk to Williams that got them out from the shadow of their own end zone.
Williams got wide open on the next play, too, but didn’t appear ready when the ball came his way. So instead of a big play or perhaps even a touchdown that would have gotten ECU back into the game, the pass fell incomplete and drive eventually stalled.
“We weren’t disciplined enough, that’s what happened today,” Williams said. “You could see it throughout the game. That’s something we’ve got the change.”
Of course, little things like being ready when a pass comes your way or not giving the opposition an extra 15 yards by hitting a receiver after he goes out of bounds should be second nature by this time of the year. The fact that it’s not is an indictment of both the coaches and the players that are committing those mental mistakes, especially the seniors that should know better.
It’s debatable as to whether the issues can be fixed in time to salvage anything either tangible or intangible through the final six games of the season. And even then it might not matter.
But at least then, the Pirates would force their opponents to beat them instead of making things easy by doing most of the damage to themselves.