ECU’s Scott Montgomery Demands Changes Prior To WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There was an idea that East Carolina’s program was improving under Scott Montgomery, that the Pirates’ ship wasn’t sinking quite as fast as indicated by losses in nine of their last 10 games.
But that goodwill was largely erased by a putrid performance in the opener against James Madison, when ECU gave up 614 yards of offense, including 410 on the ground in a 34-14 defeat. The new-look 4-2-5 set, designed to maximize the ability to control the line of scrimmage with better back end flexibility, was gashed for touchdown runs of 85, 80 and 70 yards, and now it appears the coaching staff has hit the reset button.
“I think the biggest deal is that I feel insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” said Montgomery, embarking on his second season in Greenville. “We are not going to do the same things over and over. We will have changes.
“There are definitely some things that we have got to do differently. I thought some of our guys came out and competed at a high level with a lot of toughness and then I thought that some people could have played a lot better. Schematically, offensively and defensively, we were presented with the things that we thought we were going to be presented with and that’s why it is especially disappointing that we didn’t execute any better than we did.”
East Carolina not only got ripped in the run game, but it failed to generate much on the opposite side of the ball until a third quarter switch from former starting quarterback Gardner Minshew to Duke transfer Thomas Sirk. It was assumed by many pundits that Sirk would win the job in preseason, and there was surprise throughout the ECU area when Minshew, a junior, was tabbed as the first-teamer in August. That lasted all of one half, as Sirk took over and connected on 21-of-35 passes for 210 yards – but also two interceptions.
Minshew completed just 7-of-18 passes for 81 yards with a pick, and neither was helped by a running game that managed just 70 yards on 30 attempts. ECU ranked 10th in the AAC last year in averaging just 132.4 yards per game, so there are clearly significant issues for Montgomery.
“Our first time starters at all spots struggled,” Montgomery said. “I’ve got to do a better job of managing our emotions before and during the game. It was a poor performance. The lack of our run game on offense and poor red zone efficiency really started from the beginning. Defensively, we had 422 yards of rushing but we had five plays for 300 yards, and we talked about from the beginning about eliminating explosive plays.
The elimination of the explosive plays in the run game didn’t happen because of our inability to tackle on the third level. We got out of gaps a couple of times, certain people got out of gaps. It was a collective team loss.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier, with West Virginia in Morgantown and then Virginia Tech and AAC favorite South Florida at home. East Carolina’s program is very familiar with WVU quarterback Will Grier, as Grier’s father, Chad, was a back-up to Pirates’ quarterback Jeff Blake for a season. Chad Grier then coached Davidson Day in Charlotte to four state titles – including multiple championships with Will at quarterback – in six seasons before resigning.
“West Virginia presents a new challenge on offense and they are led by Will Grier,” Montgomery said. “People around here are familiar with the last name. The biggest deal is that you can’t give guys like Will that many open spaces to throw the ball. You have got to put pressure on him. You’ve got to move him off the spot. I thought (Va Tech) moved him off the spot a couple of times but I thought protection in the interior for West Virginia was pretty good.
“(Grier) was able to stand in there and he’s not going to miss shots. He might have missed two or three throws in the game, some crossing routs, one where he got out of the pocket and it was a deep post, but he’s not going to be missing very many of those.”
Montgomery also praised Justin Crawford, and his 106-yard performance on just 13 carries. In all, West Virginia amassed 592 yards of offense while averaging 6.7 yards per play.
“Crawford is probably one of the most elusive and strongest backs we have seen over the last couple of years,” said Montgomery, a former NFL wideout and Pittsburgh Steelers receivers coach. “He is a really, really good football player and he has an array of weapons out there on the perimeter as well. That will be a challenge. Defensively they are three-three stacked with Kyzir White and Al-Rasheed Benton, which gives 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.
“But I don’t doubt that there is some panic (with the ECU fan base.) I told the team, everyone on our coaching staff and the people that work on the field; don’t blink. Smart decisions need to be made. We are making them and we will be back. I know what our problems are. We failed one day, and now we have a whole season in front of us and our guys will be prepared. But we are not going to blink. I’m not going to blink.”