East Carolina put forth a baffling performance at Temple. Until a 49-6 American Athletic Conference loss to the Owls last week, the Pirates, although 2-2, had been in every game. The two losses to North Carolina A&T and South Florida were by a total of 12 points.
ECU had more total yards than the opposition in the first four games.
Then came the debacle at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Unless you understand history, there’s a danger of repeating it and Pirates coach Scottie Montgomery has been focused on correcting the factors that led to a such a one-sided result.
“I think it was the combination of a few things,” Montgomery said. “All things considered, we’ve got to play mistake-free football as a staff, as a team. I didn’t think we were mistake free at all in the first part of the game. Usually, when you have games like that when you don’t play well, the first thing you see is penalty discipline will show up. That didn’t happen for us so that means that the foundation of what we’re doing is still solid.
“The kids are doing what we ask them to do. I think it’s the fundamental part of it that we have to get fixed. The fundamentals come directly from coaching. We’ve got to coach our quarterback position better. We’ve got to coach our secondary better. We’ve got to coach our fronts better. At the end of the day, it’s all about what we can get coached.
“I think our guys are really, really willing. There are a lot of things that we can get cleaned up from that game, but we also understand that we’ve played some good football at different times throughout the year and that’s what we have to get back to. We’ve been able to bounce back after tough losses. What we’ve got to be able to do here at ECU now is be able to deal with winning a game and coming back and stacking another win and stacking another win. We do better off of losses. I hate that. We’ve got to be much more detailed.
“The practice (Tuesday) was intense, just like the practice last week was intense. We’ve got to be able to carry that intensity over to the game. I thought that was the biggest thing that was missing was the intensity in the game, the fundamentals and the execution of what we did. We’ve got to be better.
“Offensively, I’d like to see us get the ball in our playmakers’ hands a lot more. I think we’ve got to be better on second down, schematically in what we’re doing, give our guys a better chance on third down. We were really, really bad on third down offense. That’s not something that we’ve been really bad at but we were really bad at third down offense. We’ve got to be better at that.
“Defensively, we didn’t challenge them on the perimeter like we normally challenge them. We’ve got to correct that. That’s as simple as us coaching them different. We can get that done. I just think we’ll bounce back defensively here really quickly.
“Offensively, I think we’ve got to do a much better job of getting the ball to the perimeter and bring the offense back to being centered on running the football and throwing the run-action pass and getting the ball to the perimeter. We didn’t do a good job of that. I think we have the ability to do that and we didn’t do it.”
Getting a handle on holding
ECU had just two penalties for 25 yards and Temple drew six flags for 66 yards. Montgomery challenged the officials about several instances when he thought the Owls offensive front was holding. The Pirates followed up with conversations with the league office this week.
“Our defensive end position presents a new challenge for our league,” Montgomery said. “We’ve changed the game a little bit in the way that we’re playing the position. They had more time to throw the ball and it was not because our guys weren’t getting great rushes. I thought there were some opportunities for some holding penalties that they didn’t necessarily see during the game. I was a little bit frustrated about it because our guys go hard at that position and the way that we built this team with a whole lot of speed at that position, that’s something that we can’t allow to happen.”
Bryan Platt is the AAC’s new supervisor of officials this year.
“I’ll tell you, I’ve been much more pleased with the communication of our officiating this year than I have been in years past,” Montgomery said. “I think we’ve grown in that category. When we do talk about things, there’s changes to it. I think our team has been as disciplined penalty-wise as anybody. We have the same kind of structure with our penalties right now as some of the Armys and Navys of the world that have done a really, really good job of making sure their discipline is right.
“I think we’ve got to understand that officiating is a tough job but when you have such critical players at certain positions, you just want it called the correct way so any frustrations I have there is because I’ve known the more and more Nate Harvey shows up on tape, the more and more (Kendall) Futrell shows up on tape, the more our interior linemen show up on tape, there’s going to be a lot more handsy activity trying to stop them from getting to the quarterback so just want to make sure we put an emphasis on that moving forward.”
If true freshman quarterback Holton Ahlers was going to preserve his redshirt, he would not be able to play the rest of the season, having seen action in the new limit of four games. Montgomery indicated the Ahlers will remain in the quarterback rotation.
“I think Holton has really, really grown,” Montgomery said. “I think Holton is not finished growing this year. It’s a situation to where if things go as I see them going, he’ll continue to get better. We won’t redshirt him this year. … Our plans at this point in time are to try to get him more acclimated to the game and get him more snaps and do the same for Kingsley (Ifedi) if that’s what the game plan need be. We’ve done a better job offensively this week. We need to make sure the game plan is a little more centered to all three quarterbacks, not just one, and that’s what we’ll do going forward.
“I think that a great portion of what Holton is able to do moving forward now will benefit him even more and not just having him a package but a complete package that he can go out and execute, a whole game plan.”
Houston up next
ECU (2-3, 0-2 AAC) hosts Houston (4-1, 1-0) on Saturday at 7 p.m.
“They beat a Power Five school (Arizona),” Montgomery said. “They’ve really played well at certain times in the game. If you ask them they probably would say they didn’t play well against Tulsa but they just made a few mistakes here and there from really having a truly dominant first half. In that game it was one of those situations to where it got late in the game and I think Tulsa was up.
“I think they’re a really, really good football team. I think they’re really talented.
“Defensively, we’ve recruited a lot more defensive players over the last couple of years, at a lot of positions like defensive back. We’ve went and got a lot of guys at defensive end position and linebackers for speed to be able to play against these types of teams. This is what we were used to seeing a couple of years ago and a year ago, a mobile quarterback. This guy (D’Eriq King) is extremely talented. When he runs the ball. he runs aggressively to the perimeter. When he’s scrambling, he’s scrambling toward the line of scrimmage. He scrambles through the interior. Our rush lanes have got to be correct for our defensive linemen. We can’t allow him to run to the perimeter on us and we also can’t allow him to scramble the ball through the center of the defense. When he does that, he can create some problems on the second level and third level because he is a 4.4, 4.5 (seconds, 40 yards) kid with extreme quickness. We’ve increased our overall defensive speed because of that.”
Oliver a special talent
Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver was a consensus All-America selection in 2017.
“On the defensive side of the ball for them, Ed Oliver, it starts with him,” Montgomery said. ” … He’s quite the matchup. I’ve seen so many different schemes to try and stop him. We’ve got to try and keep him off balance. … It will be a different look for him this week, as many times as we can give it to him. By giving him some different looks throughout the game, we hope to keep him off balance. He’s a great player, one of those guys you only see once every 10 years in college ball. I think he’s that type of talent. It’s one of those games where we’ve got to neutralize him. …
“They have position flexibility with him. They have some packages where they can shoot him out to a three technique. I’m sure they can play him even wider if they need to. … He’ll line up on center and really can wreak havoc. He has such great leverage. In short yardage runs, he barrels and it’s very hard to take one gap or two gaps away from him. He creates a lot of pressure on double teams because of how low he gets. He can leverage one guy. Once he leverages one guy, it kills the double team. It gives him the ability to split the double team and make the play in the backfield. He’s extremely intelligent. His football IQ is out of the roof. I can see him understanding back placement, understanding the placement of the tight end and changing his technique. Just a really, really skilled player.
“It’s what the National Football League is all about, players like him that have extreme football intelligence, great ability to play and a high motor. He has everything it takes to be a really, really high draft pick this year.”
Keys this week
Getting back on track for ECU will mean getting the ball into the hands of the program’s most talented skill personnel.
“We’ve got to take care of the football, but we’ve got to do things that benefit our playmakers,” Montgomery said. “I didn’t think we did a good enough job of getting our backs the ball last week and No. 88 (Trevon Brown) the ball last week. We’ve got to get him the ball and we’ve got to do a better job of that and we will this week.”
There’s no place like home as the saying goes.
“We’re excited to come back home,” Montgomery said. “When you play at Dowdy-Ficklen — we don’t make excuses on the way that we play on the road — but it’s just a huge advantage. The energy that our crowd brings to our guys is different than the energy that we have when we’re on the road, especially last week. That’s no excuse whatsoever. We’ve got to come out ready to play every single time we take the field.
“After looking at practice with the intensity and level of competition that we had, emotion is running high. I think the emotional intelligence of our team is high. We understand how to play with emotion and bounce back after a tough loss. We’ll be ready to go this weekend.”