East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones (7) attempts to escape from South Carolina defensive back Chris Lammons (3) during the first half of Saturday’s game in Columbia, S.C. The Pirates, who will visit Virginia Tech this Saturday, lost 20-15.
East Carolina running back Anthony Scott (3) attempts to elude South Carolina linebacker Jonathan Walton (28) during the second half of Saturday’s game in Columbia, S.C.
By Stephen Igoe
Special to the Times
The challenge the East Carolina football team is facing heading into its next game is two-fold.
Not only are the Pirates trying to recover from their first and what could be their toughest loss all season, but the team that awaits them is arguably one of the best on ECU’s remaining schedule.
East Carolina (2-1) out-gained South Carolina by more than 200 yards in its 20-15 loss, but four empty trips — three turnovers and a blocked field goal — on consecutive possessions inside the Gamecocks’ 10 proved deadly.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, it doesn’t get easier. The Hokies — under first-year head coach Justin Fuente — enter Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. kickoff inside Lane Stadium in Blacksburg coming off a 49-0 romping of ACC foe Boston College.
Virginia Tech (2-1) lost to Tennessee two weeks ago in similar fashion to how ECU dropped its first game. The Hokies outgained the ranked Volunteers, but lost five fumbles in the 45-24 setback.
Fuente’s club then responded by crushing the Eagles in a near-perfect performance.
“They dominated their game much more than we did in the Tennessee game,” Fuente said of ECU. “But they did make some of the mistakes we made in the Tennessee game, and I would imagine their practice tenor, their verbiage they are going to use during the week is going to be similar to what ours was last week. I have every reason to believe we’re going to face an incredibly focused and talented football team on Saturday.”
Pirate head coach Scottie Montgomery said the team bounced back strong earlier this week, beginning on Sunday before responding with one of their best practices of the season on Tuesday.
“The demeanor was great,” Montgomery said. “Our team is hungry and they understand how hard you have to work to get a chance to win. The tape showed exactly what the tape showed. The biggest issue is that we had physical errors more than mental errors and guys take that to heart.
“Coaches really harp on mental errors, but players, if they have a physical error where they turn the ball over from a fumble, or a throw is early or isn’t as hard as we want to make the throw. A lot of those physical errors set with a player, so they were anxious to get out to practice.”
ECU has won six in a row over the ACC dating back to 2013, including two straight wins over Virginia Tech, heading into Saturday’s matchup.
HOKIES SCOUTING REPORT
The Hokies, as always, are one of the top defensive teams in college football.
After Fuente took over for long-time head coach Frank Beamer, the former Memphis coach elected to keep legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster on the staff in the same role.
In his 30th season with Virginia Tech, Foster has his unit ranked second in college football in total defense and first in pass defense. But the Pirates, averaging nearly 400 yards passing per contest with quarterback Philip Nelson, will be the first real test the Hokies’ secondary has faced all season.
“They’re going to stop the run first and force you to throw the football,” ECU offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said. “They play tight coverage, so you have a lot of contested throws. We’ve got to protect the quarterback, we’ve got to make great decisions at quarterback and then we’ve got to make plays down the field.”
Montgomery is plenty familiar with the challenges a Foster-led defense brings to the table. The Pirate skipper faced Foster and Virginia Tech seven times as an assistant coach with the Blue Devils.
“I’ve competed against him as a coordinator,” Montgomery said. “There is no one, as a coordinator, who has challenged us as much as he has. … Over the last eight to nine years that I’ve been able to see his defense since I was going against him, he does a good job of changing it up. We have to be ready for the adjustment. It hurts that I’ve gone against him because he knows our adjustments in certain situations and hopefully we’ll be able to know some of his. What a fantastic football coach he is.”
Offensively, the Hokies have made tremendous strides under the offensive-minded Fuente.
Junior college transfer Jerod Evans has thrown 10 touchdowns to just one interception through three games, including five touchdown passes alone against Boston College last weekend.
The Hokies have two of the top pass-catching weapons in the ACC in wide receiver Isaiah Ford and 6-foot-7 tight end Bucky Hodges.
Ford already has 20 grabs for 257 yards this season.
Following a four-turnover performance against South Carolina, ball security was sure to be a major point of emphasis this week in practice for the Pirates.
Montgomery said the team spent 15 minutes alone on protecting the football during a rainy practice on Tuesday.
With starting running back Anthony Scott fumbling four times already this season, Montgomery hinted at the possibility of more reps for backup Devin Anderson, who played the majority of the stretch run at South Carolina.
“There are three things you can do to correct the way that you carry or stop fumbling the football,” Montgomery said. “The first is how you coach it. The second thing is how you carry it. The third thing and how to fix it is you have to play somebody else. Those three things are what you have to look at from a standpoint of protecting the football.”
Anderson, a sophomore, scored his first career touchdown with a 4-yard reception in the fourth quarter at South Carolina, while true freshman Hussein Howe is currently acting as the team’s third back.
Highly-touted transfer Derrell Scott, despite making the travel roster, hasn’t participated in a game yet this season.
Stephen Igoe is the publisher of the East Carolina 247Sports website Hoist The Colours. Check out more of his work at eastcarolina.247sports. com.
126 Nash St. W. Wilson, North Carolina 27893 252-243-5151