For key offensive contributors like quarterback Holton Ahlers, wide receiver Trevon Brown and running back Anthony Scott, East Carolina’s open date has provided a valuable chance to marinate in the offense with Ahlers at the helm.
If you ask the ECU coaches, the Pirate system is running more efficiently each day. Head coach Scottie Montgomery called Tuesday’s practice Ahlers’ best yet for the Pirates, and offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said that the staff isn’t holding any part of the playbook back from Ahlers.
“He’s slowly just taking just over the offense, and even the team, and that’s what the quarterback has to do,” Petersen said. “He’s not acting like a freshman, he’s making a good decision to take care of the football and learn from some of the mistakes he made last week, and Holton just brings it every day. He has fun. He plays hard, he loves to win, he loves to compete, and he’s fun to coach.”
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Just after Ahlers’ first start against Central Florida, Petersen told him, “You’re going to learn so much from this game,” because he knew Ahlers would convert the turnovers and missteps in that 37-10 defeat into motivation to take care of the football and move it effectively. Today when the Pirates line up against Memphis, the Pirate Nation will get a home-field look at the offense, post tune-up.
You need two hands to count the number of quarterbacks senior Trevon Brown has caught passes from in his ECU career, so he doesn’t find it too difficult to adjust to a new signal caller. But even though change in the offense is commonplace to Brown, he is impressed with the confidence with which Ahlers has assumed the mantle of starter.
“We knew what he could do before he got here, but he just came in, and when Reid went down he became a leader,” said Scott, the Pirates’ second most prolific rusher with 264 yards so far this season. “Even though he’s a freshman, when he speaks we listen to him. He’s just running the show right now, he’s just keeping it all together. He’s connecting with us, we’re getting more time with him, and he’s just taking the lead.”
One of the chief areas where Petersen hopes to see improvement is in the execution of explosion plays, especially in scoring situations. While an offense that can make steady progress toward the end zone is important, the best teams combine typical, steady yardage drives with explosion plays. ECU is looking for the players who will step up and add some fireworks.
“We need the x plays, and probably the biggest thing we need is the x play touchdowns,” Petersen said. “That’s where we’re lacking a little bit. Holton brings a lot to the table both in the run and pass game, but whether it’s run or pass, when we’re at the 40, the 30, the 25, (we need) to not always have to methodically move it into the end zone.”
It’s a fair bet that some of those explosion plays will involve Brown, who as a senior and a top performer in the passing game, is locked in at this point in the season, Petersen said.
“He’s practicing hard out here, I think he’s doing a great job in the games, he’s our big play guy on the outside and I’m happy with everything he’s doing,” Petersen said.
Montgomery calls today’s contest “a huge game” and considers it a showcase for the work the Pirates have been doing in the past two weeks.
Scott said he has seen a team with strong energy and a determination to eliminate mistakes and show its comfort level with its quarterback.
“I feel like everybody came out on edge today; they know how important it is for us to get a win,” Scott said after Tuesday’s workout. “I feel like everybody came out ready to go, ready to execute the plays that were called. We just have to minimize the mental errors, and just know our plays and execute them and we’ll get better as the season goes.”