It will be Senior Day on Saturday as East Carolina hosts Cincinnati for a noon kickoff.
East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery recalled his last home game as a player at Duke. Coincidentally, the Blue Devils notched their third win of the season before closing the 1999 season with a loss on the road.
ECU (2-8, 1-5 AAC) could follow the same scenario as the Pirates are regarded as a competitive matchup for the Bearcats (3-7, 1-5), but likely will be an underdog in the season finale at Memphis.
“It is special,” Montgomery said of the pending occasion at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. “It’s probably one of my more memorable days as a football player. Senior Day was a time when my mother, of course, was still alive and I just kind of remember those times, just being out there and seeing my family. Then getting to go and compete in front of our fans for the last time.
“It’s going to be emotional for our players, but for me, it’s going to be emotional because you just spend time with these young men and you pray that you’ve prepared them for what’s next. That’s kind of what Senior Day means to me. My greatest judgment is going to come in about five to 10 years when I see these young men again and wonder if we did a good enough job preparing them for life and for football and everything in between. That’s the emotion that I’ll have getting to see them run out there.
“There’s a lot of guys that are older guys that we gave the opportunity to play for the first time. Then there are some guys who were here already that were looking for some more opportunities and already were playing. We’re really, really excited to send those guys off in a great way. We’re going to play well for them. Our guys are going to go out and compete their butts off for those seniors. I’m really proud of them.”
Takeaways from Tulane
The Pirates took a 31-24 overtime home loss to Tulane last week, although Hussein Howe ran for 108 yards. The Wave had three turnovers compared to one for ECU.
“We got our run game going offensively and then, defensively, we did a really good job of taking the ball away,” Montgomery said. “They only scored seven points in the second half. On the one touchdown they did score, we got word back from the conference there was a holding on the linebacker and a leg whip on the end. The center judge and the umpire were not in the correct spots I guess to see the calls.
“Defensively, we did a good job of limiting them to seven points in the second half. I really thought offensively if we had gotten any points off those turnovers, we’d have been great. One of the biggest things that I was a little bit disappointed from is that our receivers usually make all those plays on the perimeter. You forget that balls are even dropped with some of our receiver play. We didn’t have a lot of just clean drops, which we did have some drops, but we had some balls that we like to call 50-50 balls that I changed that term to 90-10 balls. There’s a 90 percent chance of us catching it and a 10 percent chance that we don’t. We turned some of those balls back into 50-50 balls and they won those battles.”
Gardner Minshew started at quarterback against the Green Wave and is scheduled to start again this week. He completed 25 of 52 attempts against Tulane for 225 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“I thought Gardner did a good job of putting them in some spots outside of a few drives where he got a little flustered in the pocket and he threw a ball a couple of times away when he could have just stayed in the pocket,” Montgomery said. “We needed to settle him down.
“I also thought our special team units were good beside the one down knee. I think we’re really building with our penalties. I think we had two penalties for 20 yards and they had (eight for 70 yards). We’re starting to do all of the things right. After you start doing things right, you’ve got to start doing things well. We’re hoping to put that together and continue to grow. We need to try to get Hussein the ball and get him in some space. He really shows us that if we can elevate our speed on our team, it will give us a better chance to be successful.”
The Pirates trailed the Wave 24-17 before taking possession at the ECU 11-yard line with 2:42 remaining. The Pirates got the tying touchdown on a 9-yard pass from Minshew to Deondre Farrier with 36 seconds left in regulation.
“We have a two-minute drill in our practice, . . . mostly four times a week where I give them different situations,” Montgomery said. “Usually, the first time of the week that we do it, it’s usually a minute and five seconds, one timeout. The second time, it’s usually 40-something seconds, two timeouts.
“When I talked to them before they went out there, I told them, ‘This is a piece of cake. We don’t ever have a two-minute drill where we have this much time. Let’s go out and execute.’ We ended up scoring with 36 seconds to go. I would probably have liked to score with 15 or 20 or less to make sure they didn’t come out and try anything. Thank goodness they took a knee there, but our guys did a really good job of executing. Gardner did a good job. You could tell we’d done it a lot. Our operation was good. I knew where I wanted to take the timeout.
“That’s what good football teams look like when they’re operating in two-minute. Now we’ve got to be able to operate and execute in those situations that are not two-minute situations as well as we did in that two-minute situation.”
Tulane had a 446-389 lead in total yardage.
“The practice focus this week has simply been to be much more aggressive in our coverage,” Montgomery said. “Offensively, just have a November mindset. I’ve been talking about it. I think that’s why we ran the ball better. We’re probably running it a little bit more in practice than we normally would because who knows what the elements might be, the cold weather may be. Sometimes, gripping and spinning the ball for a quarterback in those situations make it hard but [Minshew] did a great job of it so we just want to continue to develop our physical and mental toughness, our offensive line and running the football.
“Defensively, be much more aggressive in coverage and make sure that our guys understand that you have to challenge people in coverage. We can’t let people just run by us. We can’t lay off people and let people catch the ball. A lot of emphasis continues to go to the people in coverage. We’ve been working hard on that all year. We’re still driving that home.”
Former Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is in his first season as coach of the Bearcats, who were 4-8 overall last year and 1-7 in the AAC. Cincinnati took a 31-19 home win over the Pirates on Oct. 22, 2016.
“Offensively, they have a great intermediate to quick-game passing game,” Montgomery said. “[Hayden] Moore does a good job of getting the ball out. He’s accurate, but what I really see from them is that they have a great ability to run the zone read. It’s a true zone where they actually use a tight end to block the end. Their backs are big and strong and fast. They’ve recruited that position well over the years at Cincinnati and you can see it off the tape. Both 23 (Gerrid Doaks) and 5 (Mike Boone) can get the ball downhill with some quickness. With 5, they use him in the passing game as well to get some matchups against backers. That’s one thing we’ve seen from them on the offensive side of the ball.
“Defensively, we haven’t seen very many four-down fronts this year. We’ve seen a lot of these grizzly fronts, where it’s three down, very similar to bear fronts. This week, we’re going to see a lot more under and over, just four-down fronts and some real two-linebacker looks, which is something that you think you’re going to see a lot of starting the season but everything trended more to the grizzly fronts.
“We’ve had a lot of time in the offseason preparing for this four down. We get to see it a lot in practice. We’ve got to do a good job of maintaining the line of scrimmage. Outside, I think they’ve got some good corners. They use their safeties in the run game a lot so we’re going to have to do a good job in our run-action pass game.
“We’re also going to have to do a good job up front in creating some movement. I think that our guys will be ready for the challenge.”
Effectively employing the emotion of Senior Day can provide an impetus for ECU.
“We’ve got to use that emotion and turn that emotion into passion for our seniors,” Montgomery said. “There’s going to be a tremendous amount of emotion. I’m going to be very emotional with our seniors but we’ve got to turn that emotion directly into passion and play well early. I thought we got started a little slow in the last game after we did actually come back and score. After that point, I thought it was a little bit slow in the second and third quarter. I want to play a little bit faster than we played. I want to use the tempo and the passion and energy from our Senior Day to get going early.
“Defensively, I just want to be a lot more aggressive in our coverage. I thought we did a better job with Keyshawn Canady and Colby Gore and some of those guys of challenging people. I really want to challenge the receivers, whether we’re playing off man or press man. I want to make sure that we challenge everything that they get. In support, we’ve got to have great support from our safeties this week in our run game. Our defensive line has done a good job for the most part this year and really have worked as hard as they can possibly work in stopping the run game. Now, we’ve just got to support them a little bit better by our second and third level.
“If we do that this week, we’re going to be very successful in this game. I really like the ability to go out and play Cincinnati. We battled with them last year. I think our young guys have gotten a lot better as the season has gone on. I think we’re a young team that’s getting better and I think we have a good chance this weekend.”