Pirates face uphill battle at West Virginia

Published 5:43 pm Friday, September 8, 2017

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — After dropping the home opener last week to James Madison, East Carolina will travel to Morgantown, West Virginia in an attempt to find its first win.

A win, however, will not come easily for the Pirates in their first game away this season. Quarterback Will Grier and running back Justin Crawford led the Mountaineers to a victory over rival Virginia Tech in their season opener — a Sunday-night primetime game last weekend.

Grier transferred to West Virginia from Florida in 2016. Due to NCAA transfer requirements, he had to sit out last season. Grier threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns in his first game for West Virginia. He was also the second leading rusher, behind Crawford, with 11 carries for 52 yards.

Crawford started his senior campaign with 13 carries for 106 yards. Overall, he ran for 1,184 yards last season. In 2016, Crawford ranked No. 1 in the Big 12 and sixth nationally in rushing yards per carry, averaging 7.3 yards.

“He is a really, really good football player and he has an array of weapons out there on the perimeter as well,” head coach Scottie Montgomery said of Grier, whose father backed up famed Pirate quarterback Jeff Blake. “So that will be a challenge.”

ECU struggled offensively last weekend. This week, the Mountaineers will not be any easier on defense. Thomas Sirk and Gardner Minshew combined for three interceptions last week, and neither threw a touchdown. With veterans Kyzir White and Al-Rasheed Benton on the field for the Mountaineers, Sirk will have to be prepared for a strong defense.

“Defensively, they are three-three stacked with Kyzir White and Al-Rasheed Benton give them the ability to get a lot of speed on the field and get from sideline to sideline, so we are going to have to be ready this weekend,” Montgomery said.

The same goes for the weapons around Sirk. Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium saw a lot of running back Derrell Scott last week while Clemson transfer Tyshon Dye didn’t get a single snap. Montgomery said to expect a heavier dose of Dye this weekend.

All three of ECU’s wins in Montgomery’s first season came at home. This will be Montgomery’s first chance in his second season at ECU to produce a win on the road.

“We haven’t played well on the road since I have been here,” Montgomery said. “I understand that, so we have to go up there and put together a good product. But it is also going to give us stability to be locked in going into a situation that we know a team is a great football team and we have got to respond.”

Montgomery added that there will be a lot of changes made after last week’s disappointment against the Dukes. In order for the Pirates to grab their first win, they will have to start producing more points on offense and continue to stay strong on defense, while working more to stop the run game.

“We will have changes; the first change that we are going to have is that, as you can see, Thomas Sirk will be our starter,” Montgomery said. “The next few changes you won’t see until we get to game day but there are definitely some things that we have got to do differently.”

Many of ECU’s offensive struggles started with the offensive line, which is where more of the tangible changes are likely to take place. Junior Garrett McGhin, who struggled at center, is expected to shift to guard while freshman John Spellacy would start at center.

Addressing concerns up front will need to be ECU’s primary focus at West Virginia. If the Pirates struggled to run the ball and give their quarterback ample time against James Madison, they’ll get eaten alive by the Mountaineers.

Kickoff is slated for noon.