Same growing pains continue to plague Pirates

Published 5:22 pm Monday, October 3, 2016

GREENVILLE — Following Saturday’s loss to Central Florida, East Carolina football head coach Scottie Montgomery admitted that there are some problems needing to be addressed before the Pirates take on South Florida this week.

Namely, Montgomery pointed to continuous special teams, red-zone trips and turnover woes that hampered the Pirates against UCF and have haunted them all season.

“Both times we grabbed momentum in the game, UCF responded,” Montgomery said. “As I looked at the numbers after the game I was frustrated and disappointed in a lot of the things that went on. The thing that jumped out of the stat sheet was the reason that the game was not won was our turnovers.”

Despite committing just two penalties in the game, the Pirates turned the ball over five times and forced just two Knights turnovers. ECU out-gained UCF, 521-373, in the contest, but three interceptions, two fumbles and a cast of special teams and red zone miscues ultimately resulted in a third straight loss for the Pirates.

“I think our lack of success in the red zone is directly connected to us turning the football over,” said Montgomery, whose team went 3-for-7 in the red zone Saturday. “We knew that we would have some growing pains, but we didn’t think that they would last this long or there would be this many.”

Montgomery thought about the idea of adding a red zone power package, but a lack of tight ends derailed the idea. Instead, he said getting the ball into the right players’ hands is the key to scoring touchdowns inside the 20.

“Right now we’re transitioning to try to help (the tight ends),” Montgomery said. “Personnel-wise we are very heavy at the wide receiver position. The moment that we put the quarterback under center, we take the quarterback run out of it. If you go under center without tight ends and taking the quarterback run out of it, you’re going to have a hard time moving the ball whatsoever.”

Initially looked at as a strength for this season’s team, the Pirate special teams has collectively struggled, despite having a senior specialists. Senior kicker Davis Plowman has been inconsistent and punter Worth Gregory, a preseason Ray Guy watch list member, has failed to duplicate his impressive performance last season.

Montgomery and his staff moved the starters to special teams following Week 3’s loss to Virginia Tech, where the Pirates had a punt and field goal blocked. The performance against UCF wasn’t much better, as freshman kicker Jake Verity missed a field goal and Gregory again shanked a punt.

“(UCF) won the special teams battle at all times because of our lack of detail in our special teams play,” Montgomery said. “We understand our issues and our problem. We’re trying to stop the bleeding.”

Things won’t get any easier for Montgomery and the Pirates when they travel to USF for a matchup with one the conference’s best teams, looking to avoid a fourth straight loss. Injuries to Philip Nelson and Corey Seargent create yet another hole for ECU to fill. Their statuses are in doubt.

“We’ll find out a little bit more about both of them but we’re optimistic that we’ll have them,” said Montgomery. “That’s optimism, but I’m not sure either way at this point. They were in for treatment yesterday and both seemed to respond to treatment.”