Nothing looked good for East Carolina University’s defense in its American Athletic Conference matchup against the University of Houston on Saturday.
The Cougars 6-3, 4-2 AAC, continued to light up the Pirates’ defense like ECU’s previous opponents have done. Houston’s quarterback D’Eriq King, who before this was listed as a running back/wide receiver on the roster, received his first start for the team and led them to a 25 point victory, in a defensive takedown, 52-28.
“I think the one thing is we have got to continue to grow our leadership on the team both vocal and active,” head coach Scottie Montgomery said during his weekly presser.
Though the Pirates’ offense had to adjust to captain quarterback Gardner Minshew entering the game in the first half for Thomas Sirk, the offense almost competed with the Cougars. Minshew had a field day, airing the ball out for 463 yards three touchdowns, for an ECU program record of 52 completions. However his efforts, along with wide receiver Trevon Brown’s two touchdowns, were not enough to turn it around.
“(We’ve) got to get better and try to find a way to see some of our young players,” Montgomery said. “We are going to definitely try and build on some of the young players, not turn our back whatsoever on our older players, but I really want to see some more of young players.”
Houston becomes the seventh team to defeat ECU (2-7, 1-6 AAC) by 20 or more points this season. The Pirates have struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks, losing to AAC conference opponents: the University of South Florida, the University of Central Florida, Temple University and now Houston.
King surprised the Pirates with his arm. On just 15 completions, he racked up 330 yards and three touchdowns to add to his one on the ground.
“Defensively, we’ve got to do a better job in our coverage, I think our defensive front and the guys that play close to the line of scrimmage did a good job of holding up against the run,” Montgomery said. “They (Houston) thought they would have a great opportunity to come in and put together some quarterback runs and different runs of sort. To see a quarterback that runs a lot beat us with his arm is very hard to watch.”
The Pirates’ secondary looked helpless, unable to make tackles or continue coverage downfield. Defensive back Bobby Fulp allowed a 22-yard touchdown to Cougars running back Duke Catalon as Fulp missed an open field tackle, opening a path to the end zone. Fulp seems to have let the Pirates down with missed tackles in each game this season and also later left the game in the second half with an injury and did not return.
“Bobby dislocated a toe and we put him in a boot, so hopefully, we will get him back,” Montgomery said.
Houston challenged the Pirates on deep plays and seemed to have no issue getting behind the coverage. With the Cougars playing at a quick pace, the defense, controlled by defensive coordinator Robert Prunty and defensive analyst John Gutekunst, looked sluggish once again.
“Coverage definitely has to get better; we’ve got to coach it better. There were two to three dropped coverage’s in the game that resulted in huge plays. So defensively, we still have a ways to go,” Montgomery said.
Toward the end of the second quarter the Pirates almost caught rhythm, putting up 17 points and forcing Houston into a punting situation. This rhythm was lost on the Cougars’ first drive of the second half however, when defensive back Marcus Holton Jr. gave up a 75-yard touchdown on a simple slant route over the middle to wide receiver Steven Dunbar.
“Offense, defense, special teams wise, we have a long way to go to get better but we do have some things that we can build off of from this past game,” Montgomery said.
Defensive back Chris Love III was targeted by the Houston offense, most notably when he blew his coverage and allowed a 62-yard touchdown. Love misread King on a pass play and left his zone, allowing Cougars wide receiver Linnell Bonner to get open for the score and seemingly put the game away late in the third quarter.
Due to ECU’s shortcomings on defense, Houston easily was able to send the Pirates back to the drawing boards as it prepares to host Tulane University this Saturday night inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
“We’re going to need all of Pirate Nation to come out and give us that same atmosphere that we had for homecoming,” Montgomery said.