After a devastating loss to James Madison University, head coach Scottie Montgomery and the East Carolina University football team must shift gears for another action-packed game against West Virginia in its’ first road game of the season.
Pirate football will travel up to Morgantown, West Virginia to face the Mountaineers, who are just coming off a thriller loss against Virginia Tech, the opponent ECU will face in two weeks. WVU is another high caliber team similar to JMU, but fell out of the top-25 NCAA rankings poll after its fourth quarter loss to VT.
“I thought they (VT and WVU) competed at the highest level that they could compete at,” Montgomery said. “I thought that both teams had some opportunities that they missed. I know West Virginia is kind of looking at it now, there were five or six opportunities in the game where they missed and they had it schemed up perfectly and didn’t necessarily execute a lot of the times. I think they will be a much better team when we go up there this weekend. So I thought they competed at a high level, especially in that atmosphere.”
The Pirates should be worried about Mountaineers quarterback junior Will Grier. Following his performance Sunday night against VT, he was named the Big 12 Newcomer-of-the-Week in West Virginia's conference.
Grier rushed for 371 yards on 31-of-53 completions in a hard fought loss. He also threw for three touchdowns, and was a threat on the ground with 52 yards. Grier set the record for the most passing yards in a WVU debut game, and with ECU’s defense giving up 34 points last week another big game could be in store.
“West Virginia presents a new challenge on offense and they are led by Will Grier,” Montgomery said. “He is a really, really good football player and he has an array of weapons out there on the perimeter as well. So that will be a challenge.”
As for offense, the Pirates must face a three-three stack formation defense led by WVU’s safety Kyzir White and inside linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton who give their defense the range to cover from sideline to sideline. This will put pressure on all of the ECU’s receivers and offensive line as they will have to go up against such an active defense.
In preparations, Montgomery has made a change to the starting line-up to combat the new defensive front they will face. Thomas Sirk will now lead the Pirate offense from the quarterback position. After a long quarterback battle between Gardner Minshew and Sirk, the starting position was earned by Minshew, but after the loss to JMU, Montgomery switch the roles.
“I thought that he (Sirk) gave our team a big boost when he got up off the ground,” Montgomery said. “Right then, I thought that was the spirit of the leader. That moment, when he got up off the ground, it changed everything for me just because I saw a guy that no matter what the situation, he was going to get up and compete for us. You have got to make decisions in this business or the decisions will be made for you. So I made the decision to put Thomas Sirk in there and Thomas Sirk will be our guy.”
ECU will trot into a hostile atmosphere when they reach Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. Montgomery has said he wants his team to stay focused in this environment where the stadium noise and fans may have an affect on his athletes. In order to prepare for that, the team is conducting practice with extra crowd noise to help enhance some of the team’s non-verbal communication skills.
Senior captain linebacker Jordan Williams will not miss a beat in preparation for the match up against WVU. The ECU veteran knows the team needs to focus on tackling and containing the quarterback, but doesn't want JMU’s performance to be what people should expect from the defense.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how guys respond,” Williams said. “As a leader, I got to embrace guys and make sure they don’t hang their heads and just see how they respond.”
Montgomery stressed that physicality was a big part of the game against James Madison and knows West Virginia will come with the same or even more intensity. The challenge for the Pirates on both sides of the ball will be to be more physical than their opponent.
“We failed one day, and now we have a whole season in front of us and our guys will be prepared, but we are not going to blink,” Montgomery said. “I’m ready to coach. I know our coaches are fired up right now because we have had more meetings and more time and more late nights, and we have got a lot more to get going. We know exactly where we are as a team right now and that is not where we need to be.”
ECU returns to action this Saturday at noon against WVU. The game will be televised on FS2 network, check television provider for listings.