After playing four of the last five games at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, East Carolina University begins a stretch where it plays three of its four final games on the road starting with the University of Tulane Saturday.
ECU (2-6, 0-4 AAC) is 0-2 on the road so far this season, losing a tight 20-13 contest with the University of South Florida (7-2, 3-2 AAC) on Sept. 22, and a blowout 49-6 loss to the University of Temple (5-4, 4-1 AAC) on Oct. 6.
Head coach Scottie Montgomery said ECU just needs to get right back to work, and feels his team can perform better on the road at this point in the season.
“We’ve done it, where we’ve been on the road,” Montgomery said. “I thought the South Florida game was going to be a huge challenge for us because we hadn’t gone on the road and there were so many things going on. What we have to do right now is focus on what we’re doing well.”
ECU goes on the road building off better offensive play than it had in its other two road games. ECU’s 41 points against Memphis was more than double the 19 combined points it had against USF and Temple.
The improved offense is due in large part to freshman Holton Ahlers becoming starter. Ahlers has had back-to-back 400 yard games and has accounted for 10 touchdowns so far this season (five rushing and five passing).
“I think we’ve found a few things offensively by a complete restructure of our offense three weeks ago with Holton and the things we’re doing to be positive and keep going in that direction,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said the big challenge against Tulane will be for the wide receiver group because Tulane (4-5, 3-2 AAC) puts its cornerbacks in a lot of man-to-man coverage. That makes the matchups on the outside come down to individual play.
Senior wide receiver Trevon Brown has recorded three straight games of 100 or more receiving yards, but Montgomery called for sophomore wide receiver Tahj Deans and senior wide receiver Terrell Green to make plays in one-on-one coverage too.
“Because of Holton (Ahlers) and everything he can do there are some big play opportunities in this game if we can handle the one-on-one pressure and stress they give us,” Montgomery said.
On offense, Tulane remains a run-heavy team. Last season when Tulane defeated ECU 31-24 in overtime in Greenville, it was led by Dontrell Hilliard, who ran for 189 yards and two touchdowns.
This year, it’s a pair of running backs anchoring the Tulane offense. Darius Bradwell has 752 yards and eight touchdowns, while Corey Dauphine has 642 yards and seven touchdowns.
“Coach (Willie) Fritz really loves to run the football. He does not have a problem with running it on third-and-seven to third-and-10. He’ll run it three times in a row, which is a big part of their offense. It’s controlling the time and controlling the clock. So, when we get possessions on offense, we’ve got to make the most of them,” Montgomery said.
ECU had trouble defending the run against Memphis and star running back Darrell Henderson. Memphis combined for 277 rushing yards and lit the ECU defense up for 59 points.
Montgomery said much of the defense’s struggles against the Tigers had to do with the defensive ends being restricted. ECU will need the defense that excelled against USF and not the one who struggled against Temple.
“We’ve got to take our defense on the road and play well,” Montgomery said. “That’s why we had a chance at South Florida. Our defense has to go on the road and play well.”