East Carolina true freshman quarterback Holton Ahlers said it best.
“There’s no quit in this team,” he said after Saturday’s 59-41 loss to Memphis. “We’re Pirates. That’s why I came here. It’s not easy but we’ll get there.”
Ahlers is not only shining for the offense, he’s also blossomed into the type of leader that this team needs from its quarterback.
In his first two starts for ECU he’s eclipsed the 400-yard mark on both occasions.
He’s even drawing high praise from his head coach.
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“After evaluating the Memphis tape, I thought offensively we did a lot of good things. Starting with the quarterback, he (Holton Ahlers) is getting better and better. There were a couple of small mental errors we had in there a few times in the game, but he’s starting to understand the offense. It’s starting to come to him a little bit more. “
The defense struggled against Memphis and that’s a group that will have to bounce back if the Pirates are going to win the rest of the way.
“This is not like our defense to come out and play the way that they played this past week,” explained Montgomery. “Collectively, we’ve got to put it together where we play defensively as well as we did in the early part of the season and our offense will start to play a little bit better.”
The Pirates’ next assignment is a Saturday road tilt in New Orleans at Tulane.
The Green Wave has improved immensely from a year ago, and this is a team that went to Tampa last week and had its way with a very good South Florida squad.
“We’re going against a team in Tulane this week that Coach (Willie) Fritz really loves to run the football,” said Montgomery. “He does not have a problem with running it on third-and-seven to third-and-10. He’ll run it three times in a row, which is a big part of their offense. It’s controlling the time and controlling the clock. So, when we get possessions on offense, we’ve got to make the most of them.”
The Pirates are coming off of a contest in which they were very concerned about the Memphis running game. It turned out that the big play passing game of the Tigers was more of a difference maker.
Tulane has a realistic shot at a bowl game. The Wave comes in at 4-5 overall and 3-2 in the American.
East Carolina is 0-5 in the American Athletic Conference and has won just three league games in Scottie Montgomery’s two plus seasons as the Pirate coach.
At 2-6 on the season ECU has to run the table with four wins to become bowl eligible. That was the guarantee from Coach Montgomery after last season.
Those bowl hopes are barely flickering as we head towards the second week of November. Add in the fact that the Pirates have three of those four games on the road, and that flicker is close to a burn-out.
“We just have to go back to work,” concluded Montgomery. “We’ve done it, where we’ve been on the road. I thought the South Florida game was going to be a huge challenge for us because we hadn’t gone on the road and there were so many things going on.
“What we have to do right now is focus on what we’re doing well. I think we’ve found a few things offensively by a complete restructure of our offense three weeks ago with Holton and the things we’re doing to be positive and keep going in that direction.
“Defensively, there is a few things we’ve got to clean up.”
One of those things the Pirates have to clean up is turnover margin. While ECU did a much better job of not turning the football over against Memphis, the defense continues to struggle in getting turnovers. The Pirates stand 129th, dead last in the nation at -1.63. This is a defense that has improved, but took a step backwards last week.
The Pirates have enough offense now to certainly compete. In order to beat Tulane, the defense will have to show up. A turnover or two or three wouldn’t hurt either.