ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery, left, and offensive line coach Geep Wade react in dismay on the sidelines during a game Nov. 12 against SMU in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville. Montgomery’s first season after replacing Ruffin McNeill started with two wins but the Pirates lost nine of their next 10 games to finish with their worst record since going 2-9 in 2004.
Walter Powell | 247Sports.com
By Stephen Igoe
Special to the Times
Scottie Montgomery emerged from the locker rooms and re-entered Lincoln Financial Field with a look of disbelief.
His team had just endured another loss, falling 37-10 in its season finale at Temple to finish 3-9 overall and 1-7 in American Athletic Conference mark.
The three wins were the lowest for ECU’s program since 2004’s 2-9 mark under John Thompson, and the Pirates — after a promising 2-0 start — had faded down the stretch with losses in nine of their last 10 games and glaring issues arising across the board.
But after some frustrating mannerisms and time to stew, Montgomery reiterated the same promise he had just told his team.
“Just a hard season altogether,” Montgomery said. “We started pretty good with Western (Carolina) and N.C. State, and as the year went on, Virginia Tech beat us up a little bit, and we never really responded from that the entire year.
“I told our team just now, the feeling that we have right now, we won’t have this feeling again. If you don’t want to come, then I’ll drag them along. But I can’t stand the way that I feel.”
As Temple advanced to get ready to play for the AAC championship this Saturday against Navy, East Carolina’s coaches hit the road with one thing on their mind — recruiting.
Montgomery spoke to the importance of the coming weeks. With National Signing Day (Feb. 1) just a few months away, the Pirates know they have plenty of holes to plug, specifically on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’re going to have to add some people who can come in and make plays on our defense really, really quickly,” Montgomery said. “To sum it up, I didn’t don’t think we ever got to a point where we tackled at any point above average. I really thought there were times in the season we would have made some great plays if we got some people on the ground.”
While East Carolina’s offense had its fair share of struggles in the team’s disappointing campaign, the other side of the ball had a number of mind-boggling miscues as well.
After losing a fumble and failing to force a takeaway in the finale loss at Temple on Saturday, ECU finished the year minus-16 in turnover margin with 24 giveaways and only eight turnovers forced.
East Carolina didn’t force a single turnover in its last four games and the eight takeaways were the fewest in program history by a wide margin (16 in 2001 and 2015 were the previous lows).
The defense finished the season dead last at the FBS level with eight sacks in 12 games, and their eight takeaways ranked tied for last as well. ECU’s negative-16 turnover margin was tied with two other programs for next-to-last, with Purdue’s minus-17 holding down the cellar.
“It’s just an adjustment here, that’s all it is,” said senior linebacker Cam White, who finished his final game with a career-best 12 tackles. “There were deficiencies at certain positions that prior offenses and defenses covered up.
“Next year, when everybody knows their jobs better, they know what entails their position, they know what’s expected of them fully. I mean, obviously, we installed our defense four times this season. I did more studying for play-calling this year than my past four years combined. I know for a fact if that includes me, that includes other people too because I know other people were in the film room more than I was. We were still just unsure at times.”
Montgomery and defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson tried different personnel and even attempted to simplify the scheme somewhat during the latter portion of the season, but it didn’t appear to help too much.
“We need to be a little bit more simplistic, and let guys go play the game, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams,” Montgomery said. “But when you’re simplistic, the one thing you’ve got to be able to do is tackle and block. So sometimes simplistic sounds good, but when you put it on tape as it’s been the last couple of weeks, the outcome hasn’t necessarily come out good.”
ANOTHER MARK FOR ZAY
Zay Jones finished his career with a disappointing result on the scoreboard, but he left his mark on East Carolina and the NCAA as a whole.
A week after setting the NCAA FBS career receptions mark, Jones broke the record for single-season catches, surpassing Freddie Barnes, who caught 155 passes in 2009 for Bowling Green.
Jones finished his Pirate career with an all-time best 399 catches, and he amassed 158 grabs for 1,746 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016 alone as a senior.
“It means a lot, it’s something I’ve worked hard for and something this team worked hard to put me in position for,” Jones said. “I didn’t realize I had done it again, but it was really great to have that moment.”
ECU DROPS RECRUIT
East Carolina has decided to move on from former outside linebacker commit Marques Ford.
Ford, one of the top pass-rushers at the junior college level, verbally committed to ECU on Nov. 8 after officially visiting in October.
But a lawsuit arose last week involving Ford being accused of sexual assault in 2015 along with another former Rutgers student-athlete.
Ford was set to enroll in January until recently, when East Carolina decided it was no longer choosing to recruit him.
The Pirates are now sitting at 19 commitments for the 2017 class, including fellow Jones County product and inside linebacker Cannon Gibbs.
Ford was East Carolina’s highest-rated commitment by 247Sports.
Stephen Igoe is the publisher of the East Carolina 247Sports website Hoist The Colours. Check out more of his work at eastcarolina.247sports.com.