East Carolina’s unanticipated bye week was expected to be a blessing, but when the recurring, self-inflicted mistakes continued against Cincinnati Saturday, the Pirates extended their losing streak to five.
"Our guys gave great effort," said ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery. "Effort doesn't win games when you get to this level. You've got to have great detail and execution. Unfortunately, we didn't have it."
ECU seemed poised to exercise its demons on offense late in Saturday’s game, as it marched down the field for a chance to win the game — when running back Anthony Scott fumbled the ball on the Cincinnati 14-yard line. After the Bearcats recovered the ball it seemed to be the final nail in the coffin for the Pirates.
In the first game of the season, Scott started strong as the leading rusher with 11 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown. Since week two, Scott has yet to score a touchdown, and has fumbled four times, two of which were in the redzone.
Another game-changing moment for the Pirates was an interception at the ECU 48-yard line by ECU defensive back Corey Seargent. He then returned the ball to the Cincinnati 31-yard line. It was a huge break for the Pirates. But then linebacker Jordan Williams was called for a questionable pass interference penalty to nullify the Pirates’ big break.
"It's critical because there's a lot of momentum in the game," Montgomery said. "Their sideline did a good job of yelling and screaming and doing everything and putting a lot of pressure on officiating. In the end, it proved to be a good tactic."
During the offseason, the Pirates focused on bringing pressure against the quarterback on defense. But until this past Saturday, ECU had only faced mobile quarterbacks and had tallied just one sack on the season.
It seemed as though the Pirates pass rush would have a better chance against traditional pocket passer Gunner Kiel Saturday. Kiel was starting his first game of the season, and the Pirates had defensive lineman Demetri McGill back. It seemed to be the perfect storm.
However, the Pirates were unable to get consistent pressure on Kiel, resulting in no sacks. With no rush in the pocket, Kiel completed 23-of-40 pass attempts for 348 yards and four touchdowns.
At this point in the season, the Pirates needed a win against the Bearcats for any reasonable hope of a bowl game. Now not only are the chances of postseason play slim, they also sit at last place in the AAC.
It appears ECU is talented enough to win tight games as it had shown early in the season against NC State, but untimely turnovers, penalties and lack of consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks have doomed the Pirates’ play, making it a disappointing season thus far.
"It's tough because our guys are good enough," Montgomery said. "We're running out of personnel to keep trying in different positions. The more that we can put guys in positions to win like we did tonight and we keep coming out unsuccessful makes it really, really frustrating.”