It’s no secret the East Carolina University football team has struggled through its first five games of the season, racking up a poor 1-4 record and putting coaches jobs, bowl game eligibility and the fans’ support in jeopardy.
But I have good news for all Pirates’ fans: I think the team is going to turn it around. This isn’t just a blind hope, or me trying to throw hot takes against the wall, trying to see if something sticks, but hope instilled in me by the growth of the ECU offense.
After the Thomas Sirk and Gardner Minshew quarterback duel was settled, then resurrected, then settled again, the Pirates’ offense has grown and evolved every week under Sirk’s leadership. Last week against South Florida, a team equipped with a top-20 nationally ranked defense, the ECU offense combined for 414 yards and 31 points. Its ability to keep up with the Bulls for two-and-a-half quarters shows signs of growth and should give fans hope despite the record.
While the offense is starting to flourish, the Pirates’ Achilles heel still comes from defense. Things on that side of the ball haven’t gotten any better since head coach Scottie Montgomery reassigned former defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson and promoted Robert Prunty. The ECU defense is currently ranked last, 129 out of 129, in the Football Bowl Subdivision and is the only team to allow at least 3,000 yards this season, which calculates to 600 yards per game.
If Montgomery expects his team to start winning, it’s going to take a major turnaround on defense to keep his quarterback and offense in games. The second half specifically has been disastrous for the Pirates, who have been outscored in the third and fourth quarters 129-52 this year. Defensive backs have lost track of opposing wide receivers they’re covering, defensive lineman haven’t been able to get pressure and linebackers have missed open field tackles over this dreadful start while allowing teams to run away with games.
The thing ECU football fans don’t realize is how hard the start of the schedule for this football team was. If the Connecticut game wasn’t rescheduled due Hurricane Irma, the Pirates would have faced four-straight nationally ranked teams, with James Madison sitting No.1 in the FBS, and West Virginia, Virginia Tech, USF ranked 23, 16 and 18 respectively. It was obvious on paper, then even more on the field, just how overmatched ECU is compared to these top programs. Thankfully, the loss to USF marks the end of that fatal stretch.
Over the final seven games, the Pirates will only face one ranked team, No. 25 Central Florida (3-0), who may not be ranked come the Oct. 14 matchup in Orlando. The Knights also represent half of the winning teams that ECU will face down the stretch of the season, with Memphis (3-1) being the only other. The Pirates record of 1-4 may not scare any teams right now, but the progress they are making, at least on one side of the ball, should give fans a reason to be hopeful.
Next week will be a chance for ECU to get another conference win and hop back in the early race for a conference championship appearance. Temple (2-3, 0-2 AAC) is also ranked near the bottom of the FBS in total defense. The Owls currently sit at 108, and haven’t looked like the team that’s made back-to-back conference championship games. They struggled to beat Massachusetts and Villanova, while getting blown out by Notre Dame and USF. Unlike the Pirates, the Owls haven’t established much offense in any game, but their defense makes up for the lacking offense. Against the Bulls, Temple rushed the ball for negative four yards and couldn’t eclipse the 100-yard mark of total offense (remember, ECU gained 414) while losing 43-7.
So yes, I do think the Pirates will start winning more games now that their destructive start of the year is behind them. It’s clear what needs to change for this team to start winning more games and this weekend presents the perfect chance to get that started.