One of the highlights for East Carolina in its 34-10 home loss to Temple on Saturday was the play of linebacker Aaron Ramseur, who had six solo tackles and five assists to tie Clemson graduate transfer safety Korrin Wiggins for the team high with 11 stops. Ramseur also returned an interception 31 yards.
“He’s been coming on a long time,” Montgomery said. “I don’t want to have to play any redshirt freshmen or true freshmen. But we’ve got some guys that have really earned it, that are really talented and good people. There’s no way we can hold him back any more.
“He’s going to be a fantastic player here. Remember me saying that. This kid is going to be one of those guys that’s a household name here at East Carolina.
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“He’s a redshirt freshman. He’s a young kid. He’s very explosive and he can tackle in space, which I really like.
“He makes plays on the football. He’s one of the few kids that we recruited in the first class when we got here. When we first got here, that class was already put together. There are some good football players in that class. He was one of the people that didn’t have a whole lot going on.
“I loved him when I was back in Durham and we didn’t really have a spot, so as soon as I got here I wanted to make sure we got him and made him a Pirate. He’s going to be good.”
Trust in an old-school coach
Eight years ago, John Gutekunst joined East Carolina’s football staff as former Pirate assistant Rock Roggeman went on medical leave. Gutekunst helped ECU to its second straight Conference USA championship under coach Skip Holtz in 2009.
Gutekunst, 73, played at Duke from 1963 to 1965, serving as team captain as a senior. Among his numerous coaching stops, he was head coach at Minnesota from 1985 to 1991.
Looking to help a defense that is allowing 599.5 yards per game, Pirates coach Scottie Montgomery reached out to his former colleague.
“John and I have known each other for a long time,” Montgomery said. “I was a player and he was in the coaching business. . . . He and I had a chance to work together at Duke as well. Since then, he and I have been really close. He was at a point where he didn’t really want to be in coaching. It’s hard in the offseason to recruit and do all the other stuff that comes with it.
“After I called him a couple of weeks ago, he decided to come on and help us. It just took a little bit of time in the process of getting everything done.
“You know the first thing is you always want somebody in the building that you know and trust and he hit the highest level on both of those.
“I really wanted him to put an eye on our secondary and our linebackers’ alignments, to make sure that we’re hitting every detail. He’s been able to watch us a little bit now. Of course, he’s old school and the first thing he tells me, is ‘We’ve just got to go make plays.’
“It was amazing to hear him talk about how detailed he thought our alignments were. What I wanted from him was just a great set of eyes in the [press] box. As a coordinator, I was in the box and I really loved being in a box. I felt, not only could I help offensively, but I could help coach [Jim] Knowles (defensive coordinator) when I was back at Duke with the things that I was able to see.”
Gutekunst will be upstairs as ECU (1-5, 1-2 AAC) visits Central Florida (4-0, 2-0) on Saturday at 7 p.m.
“It helped me focus by being up there,” Montgomery said. “I had always known that Coach Gutekunst was great in the box. We really needed another set of eyes in the box and in the building to just quality control everything that we do — our practice time, how much time we’re spending on tackling and how much time we’re spending on coverage. He really has been an extreme help to what we’re doing, just making sure that we’re not missing anything, especially with being one person down on our defensive staff. Sometimes, you become a little shorthanded. He’s helped us out quite a bit.”
Former defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson was given other responsibilities after a 56-20 loss at West Virginia in week two. Associate head coach and defensive line coach Robert Prunty became defensive coordinator.
Offense struggles against Owls
ECU’s offense struggled against Temple as quarterback Thomas Sirk was not as effective as in some previous games.
“Directly connected to our run game,” Montgomery said. “I thought we put Thomas in some positions that we hadn’t put him in in weeks before. We’re going to have to run him a little bit more, too, to fix some things in their coverage. We’ve got to protect him and put a little more pressure on them in our run game.
“Our offensive front has to have a much better week than we had last week. That’s where it all starts. I thought some of our receivers did some really good jobs in this game, got to some good spots with some really well-run routes, collectively by some of those guys.
“Thomas was just a half-second from being able to deliver some great throws. It frustrated him. We’re getting that fixed. We’re going to have to work our butt off all week and the weeks to come because I felt like if we had scored a couple of times early we wouldn’t have put him in some positions we hadn’t put him in in weeks before.
“I felt like if we scored a couple of times early for our defense — they were running to the football. The only way they were able to score on us a couple of times was with some big plays on fourth downs and third down. I thought we could give our defense a little bit more energy and we’re going to do that moving forward here this week.”
Practice schedule adjustments
With classes out for fall break, the Pirates practiced earlier Tuesday with the threat of rain later in the day.
“We saw that we were having a cell that was supposed to be coming through,” Montgomery said. “They always alert me at 8 a.m. They start watching it all the way until about 11 a.m. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do when school is in. We have to go into Minges [Coliseum] and do what we can do and get it done in there.
“We were very fortunate [Tuesday] because school was on fall break. We were able to move practice up to the hottest part of the day. I think it was around 89 when we practiced, which was great in October to be able to get out there in that type of weather. We had to adjust it there a little bit, practiced in the hottest part of the day. They were done about four o’clock. We got extra treatment at the end of practice. It really helped us.
“I love morning practice. I’m a big believer in morning practice. I love to be able to get that done here. It gives our guys a chance to practice outside more because it seems like the majority of thunderstorms happen right around practice time. It also creates focus the night before because we have to get up and play. It’s just a lot of energy.
“Also our guys can go be true student-athletes once they leave the building. They can go get in class and have the rest of their day connected to class.”
Concern about penalties
ECU had significant penalty yardage (96) against the Owls and that has been an area the Pirates have addressed this week.
“I’m not going to speak too much to personnel adjustments, but you will see more people playing,” Montgomery said. “Some of it’s due to penalties. Some of it’s due to guys having an extreme amount of discipline in their everyday lives.
“We’ve got to start playing some people that are 100 percent on the field and off the field, that we can count on. We count on the guys that are out there, but I think there are some spots and places for some guys to play that haven’t played as much as I would like them to play.”
Montgomery stays in touch with the AAC office about officiating.
“We always contact the league office,” said the ECU coach. “We contacted them a little bit later this week because I wanted to get some different interpretations on some different things.”
Montgomery said the league was asked about a hit out of bounds by a player on the Temple sideline who knocked Jimmy Williams down after a catch. A flag was thrown but no walk-off was assessed.
“Yes it was a major concern of mine,” Montgomery said. “And then there was also a critical play on 3rd-and-3 on the first drive. Thomas was yelling, screaming and talking about his face. I had no idea.
“I thought he just got into one of those moments, upset about getting tackled and not being able to convert a third down. He said he got gripped by the facemask and I didn’t know. I couldn’t see it from where I was standing because we were so far back.
“He was right. We get a TV copy of the tape and we get a game copy. Unfortunately, he did get his face mask grabbed twice in one play. One was while he was standing up and the other was to tackle him to the ground. I always believed Thomas, but I didn’t know exactly what he was talking about or why he was so upset. We’ve got to be able to see those.
“And then we’ve got to convert when we can convert and — nothing to do with the officiating. We’ve got to take care of our business. There were more than a few that I sent in and I wanted to hear some explanations.”
Thoughts on UCF
The Knights are ranked No. 22 nationally by the Associated Press.
“Very talented football team, a lot of speed,” Montgomery said. “They’ve really turned the turnovers for other teams into points. The one thing that we haven’t seen from them that no one has made them do is put together a drive really of execution. They’ve got so much talent and good coaching, they’re one-playing people sometimes. They’re throwing bombs. They’re three-play driving from 95 yards out.
“Or they’ve got skill guys who break one tackle and then they go score. So the one thing that we see on offense is a tremendous amount of speed. On defense, they got my favorite player playing defensive football probably this year. Shaquem Griffin (UCF defensive back) is playing at a high level (No. 18) and he plays to the echo of the whistle. They kind of move as he moves. I see he gives that defensive team energy.
“I like the way they play over there.”
ECU is a decided underdog but several factors could lead to an upset.
“The first key is that we’ve got to make them drive the football,” Montgomery said. “We can’t give up big plays. We’ve got to slow them down and make them execute. I haven’t seen them execute as much, because they haven’t had to. So we’ve got to make them execute.
“And then on offense, we’ve got to use our quarterback effectively, whether it be in the run game or in the passing game. But it all starts up front on offense. It’s all going to come down to how well we play up front. We’ve got to play better than we did last week. The thing is we can. We’ve gotten better every single week until last week so I know those guys can do it. I know that they will do it.
“And then on special teams (UCF returns), we’ve got to keep the ball out of the hands of a couple of players, Mike Hughes and then their dynamic returner. I mean [Adrian] Killins [Jr.]. Those two guys are so talented with the football. Where we put the ball in their hands, we’ve got to cover and tackle. But we’ve got to try to keep it out of their hands.”
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