East Carolina last won a football game on the road on Sept. 24, 2017, at Connecticut. The Pirates topped the Huskies, 41-38. Since then, 10 games away from Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium have produced 10 losses.
ECU visits Old Dominion on Saturday for a 6 p.m. kickoff with a reasonable chance to end the futility on the road.
“That’s always the challenge right there,” said Pirates coach Mike Houston, who has been successful regardless of venue at previous programs, including James Madison. “I think the teams that win on the road, which if you look back at our track record as a won-lost percentage, we’ve been really, really good on the road everywhere we’ve been. The reason for that is when we got things fixed and got the culture of the program instilled, we were a physical football team that played really sound defense, that would run the football and consistently did the things that good football teams do. Don’t turn it over. Don’t beat yourself. Play together.
“I do think confidence from success breeds confidence. I think unity is really critical on the road. All of those things are factors that you have to develop. Until you develop those things, you’ll struggle to win on the road.”
Houston’s mother, Evelyn, came from Franklin, near Asheville, to see the William & Mary game last Saturday. She didn’t stay for ECU’s winners dinner on Sunday night.
“They had to head back, so she headed back about mid-day on Sunday,” Houston said. “My sister had brought her down. She had to work on Monday. … I’m trying to get her to come down and stay for a couple of weeks some time. We’ll see how that effort goes.”
The week leading up to the matchup with the Monarchs included some significant announcements relating to the program.
William & Mary was a replacement opponent for Virginia Tech. Future games with the Hokies have been canceled so ECU athletic director Jon Gilbert will be seeking more replacements in the future.
The Pirates will play at Georgia State on Oct. 3, 2020, rather than play Virginia Tech.
It was also revealed that quarterback Reid Herring and running back Hussein Howe are planning to transfer from the Pirate program.
Prior to the report of Howe’s exit, he was among four potential starters at running back on the depth chart on Tuesday. His status reduced the field to Trace Christian, Demetrius Mauney and Tay Williams. The Pirates recently have been blessed with the emergence of ball carriers since Darius Pinnix went out with a shoulder ailment. Christian and Williams helped ECU accumulate 270 yards rushing last week.
“We didn’t see a whole lot of balance in production in spring practice,” Houston said. “Even during preseason camp, we didn’t see as much as we’re seeing now. The reasons for that — some of it’s a little bit of a learning curve for maybe the young guy. Some of it maybe a little bit between the ears, attitude-wise for a couple of the older guys. But, for whatever reason, we do have guys coming around. I point to last week’s practices in speaking directly about Trace and Tay. A few weeks back, they really started trending in a positive direction to the point that I instructed Coach (Roy) Tesh (special teams coordinator) to start getting them involved on special teams. Really, that’s the first step because once you’re involved on special teams, then you’re on the travel team.
“I think those two have done a good job of not saying a whole lot, but going out to practice every day. My observation of them the last couple of weeks has been continued improvement with their effort to the point that last week we were rotating them back and forth between the scout team and the travel team on both fields. I’m kind of back and forth during practice between both fields. I saw those two standing out with their effort. They were doing the same things on Tuesday and Wednesday last week that they did on Saturday night. That’s a real key thing that I want all of our players to see is that positive play in practice results in positive play on game day. Coach Sims and I had talked about not hesitating to use them on Saturday night. It was good to see them get in there and do some really positive things when they got their opportunity.
“Now, all of a sudden, they have confidence in themselves. We have confidence in them. Their teammates have confidence in them.”
Houston wanted to see continued solid effort in practice.
“Each week kind of starts over,” said the Pirates coach. “It will be your play during the week that will dictate your play on game day. I do think that’s very much where our program is right now at most positions.”
Both ODU and ECU have been through significant changes since the Pirates topped the Monarchs, 37-35, in Greenville last season.
“The first thing, when you look at the film, they’re a long, athletic, good-looking football team,” Houston said. “They certainly pass the look test as far as their athletes. When you look at their roster and what it looks like this year compared to last year, here are the things that stand out — you have 42 new players. You have, I believe I counted right, 30 transfers. Seventeen junior college transfers signed mid-year or last spring and numerous grad transfers.
“You look at their secondary. Their entire secondary played somewhere else last year. So this is a completely different football team than what they were a year ago. I’ve never seen anything like this in college football, ever. It’s maybe very similar to what Joe Dooley has been able to do here in basketball this past year, but it’s just so hard to do in college football because of the restrictions within the rules. But that’s the makeup of their roster. The people that saw the game last year, they’re going to have new guys out there.”
Old Dominion (1-2) faces its first out-of-state foe as the Pirates come to S.B. Ballard Stadium. The Monarchs won their opener at home 24-21 over Norfolk State before subsequently falling 31-17 at Virginia Tech and 28-17 at Virginia.
“You look at their scores, it’s kind of hard to explain a little bit,” Houston said. “I mean they played Tech and Virginia so tight. They really looked good against Virginia. The Norfolk State game was so tight. Norfolk State, they’re a competitive FCS program, but certainly, I don’t think anybody sees them on the same level as Virginia Tech and Virginia. But that was the first game so it may be just that all these new faces are jelling as they play together more, which I’m sure the staff at ODU hopes is happening.
“They’re athletic. They have great speed. The quarterback (Stone Smartt) is a great player, 6-4, can run, throw, one of the top quarterbacks in junior college football last year in the entire country. They’ve got two tailbacks that they play primarily. Kesean Strong was the starter last year. He’s a senior. Lala Davis, I know extremely well. It came down to ODU and JMU were his final two a couple of years back when he came out of high school. So I know him. I know his family. Great kid. He’s going to be a tough sucker to bring down.
“They’re a good football ream, all three phases.”
David Blackwell, an ECU alumnus who served the Pirates as defensive coordinator last year, is working in the same capacity at ODU.
“He can tell everybody the ins and outs of the kids on our roster that were here,” Houston said. “He knows them well, I’m sure. So I think that’s certainly an advantage.
“Bryan Stinespring, who is their run game coordinator, was on my staff at JMU before going to Maryland. He knows us very, very well. They’ve got some advantages but there’s nothing you can do about that.”