It was the 2011 season. Ruffin McNeill was in his second year as coach at his alma mater and East Carolina was 1-4.
In fact, the Pirates were coming off a setback in Houston — just as ECU (1-4) finds itself this week after a mystifying 24-17 loss at Rice.
The ’11 Pirates were dealt a crushing 56-3 loss at Houston, the only points provided by Mike Barbour’s 54-yard field goal in the first quarter that cut the Cougars’ lead to 14-3.
ECU played two quarterbacks that night. Dominique Davis was 13 for 23 for 169 yards with three interceptions. Rio Johnson was 13 for 21 for 94 yards with one pick. The net rushing total for the team was 21 yards.
The Pirates had traveled to Houston after a 35-20 home loss to North Carolina.
Pirate Nation was deflated after a period of success. McNeill had gotten ECU to a bowl game the previous season. Skip Holtz had guided the Pirates to Conference USA championships in 2008 and 2009 before leaving for South Florida.
The element that creates hope for an end to the current despair that many ECU fans are experiencing was a 3-game winning streak that ensued in 2011.
The turnaround began with the Pirates facing a 10-0 deficit at Memphis. Davis ultimately was a difference maker with a night at the Liberty Bowl that included completions on 28 of 37 attempts for 307 yards and three touchdowns.
Justin Hardy had five catches for 85 yards and a score. Hardy also threw a pass for 51 yards — not too surprising considering innovative Lincoln Riley, now coaching No. 9 Southern California (5-0), was McNeill’s offensive coordinator.
Old nemesis Southern Miss stopped the run with a 48-28 win at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
ECU finished the 2011 season 5-7 with a season-ending 34-27 overtime loss at Marshall.
The Pirates also were 1-4 in 2004 before winding up 2-9 in John Thompson’s second and final season as coach.
A 1-4 start in 1997 preceded a 4-game winning streak and a 5-6 overall mark. ECU was 1-4 in 1993 and concluded at 2-9.
The Pirates went 3-8 after a 1-4 beginning in 1988.
There is plenty of the 2023 season left and based on history, there are precedents for an upturn.
The Pirates will be looking to get the ship righted as they host Southern Methodist (3-2, 1-0 American Athletic Conference) on Thursday, Oct. 12, at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN). The Mustangs, who are also off this week after a 34-16 home win over Charlotte, will be making their first trip to Greenville since a 52-38 loss to the Pirates in 2020.
SMU is scheduled to leave the AAC for the ACC in 2024 so this will be the farewell matchup with ECU for the foreseeable future.
The Pirates have a 5-4 series lead.
Havelock, have not
While the debate continues as to how quarterbacks Alex Flinn and Mason Garcia might best be utilized, the ECU offensive line is not drawing the same degree of scrutiny.
The performance of the blocking corps has not been on a level that allows inexperienced quarterbacks time to throw. It hasn’t enabled sufficient production in the running game to take pressure off the passing attack.
The transfers of a pair of offensive linemen from nearby Havelock have hurt.
Avery Jones went to Auburn from ECU after starting his college career at UNC. Nishad Strother departed the Pirate program for Oregon (5-0).
Based on participation charts, the duo is not contributing significantly at their new homes, which is unfortunate. They would still be impact players at ECU.
The grass isn’t always greener away from Greenville.
The offensive line has been forced to adjust to a coaching transition from Steve Shankweiller to Allen Mogridge, who has been tasked with molding a group of inexperienced players and transfers.
What might have been?
An ECU offense with Jones and Strother blocking for Keaton Mitchell would have been exciting.
Mitchell made an early exit for the NFL and made the Baltimore Ravens’ roster, which no doubt has helped his bank account, but he is yet to carry the ball in the NFL regular season.
On the legislative front
New limitations on the transfer portal were announced Wednesday. The period to enter the portal will shrink from 60 to 45 days for all sports.
There are NCAA proposals being developed that would regulate the operation of the Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) gravy train, which would help restore some balance and sanity to college athletics.