The damage Hurricane Matthew left behind over the weekend has provided East Carolina an unanticipated yet much-needed break from another swirling storm – a four-game losing streak.
The reeling Pirates were scheduled to meet a hot Navy team that is coming off an upset of No. 6 Houston, but the Thursday night ESPN contest has been postponed to Nov. 19, when both teams coincidentally have a scheduled bye week.
There has been too much damage to clean up in eastern North Carolina, with too many primary responsibilities for the police and emergency crews to be diverted to putting on a football game at 50,000-seat Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
That has provided East Carolina some breathing room to work on its problems following last week’s 38-22 loss at South Florida in Tampa. The Pirates (2-4, 0-2 AAC East) don’t play again until Oct. 22 at Cincinnati (3-3, 0-3 AAC East).
“We felt like we found out a lot of things about our team down there (during) some adverse conditions against a good football team,” said East Carolina first-year head coach Scottie Montgomery in his Monday media session. “A lot of speed and athleticism is what this game came down to. We have to continue to grow our team from an athletic and speed standpoint, but we thought our guys played really hard throughout the game.”
An encouraging 2-0 start that included an upset of N.C. State has been wiped out.
Montgomery and his staff could have had to confront Navy’s triple-option in a short week, but now they have a week to work on more basic elements than a game plan. In order, East Carolina’s weaknesses have been exposed by South Carolina (20-15), Virginia Tech (54-17), Central Florida (47-29) and South Florida (38-22).
Turnovers cost ECU a chance to win at South Carolina, and Virginia Tech exploited special teams to turn its game against the Pirates into a rout.
East Carolina is ranked 105th in rushing; has a minus-9 on turnovers despite coming up even last week; and failed to score in the first half of a third straight game this past Saturday at USF.
Injuries have hurt at quarterback and cornerback. Senior signal-caller Philip Nelson, who was off to a fast start, has been knocked out of the last two games with hard hits. The Pirates have also lost two starting cornerbacks in the last two games, Corey Seargent and Colby Gore.
“I thought our special teams came back to be an asset for us in the (South Florida) game,” Montgomery said. “We did a lot of work on that. Also, ball security; I know we’ve talked about it quite a bit, but we thought James (Summers) did a good job protecting the football and protecting the quarterback at times at the running back position.”
The versatile Summers has been used as a tight end, wide receiver and return man, but Montgomery used him at running back last week. He rushed 18 times for 114 yards and one touchdown with a long of 31.
With Nelson banged up from the Central Florida loss, backup quarterback Gardner Minshew, a junior college transfer, received more work preceding the South Florida contest. He was 21-of-33 for 220 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Nelson left the game 12-of-23 for 88 yards and no scores.
“We were really pleased with the way Gardner came in and competed,” Montgomery said. “You could tell that he had a full week of work with the first team and receivers. His timing was much better than the first game.”
East Carolina’s unexpected bye week comes at a time when the Pirates can address sudden problems. They have only six games remaining in the attempt to secure bowl eligibility.
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