With the Pirates’ final game of last year resulting in a 70-13 loss to the University of Memphis to end with a record of 3-9 for the second consecutive year, head coach Scottie Montgomery didn’t shy away as he sat in front of reporters after the game.
Instead, Montgomery doubled down with a guarantee that ECU would make the postseason next year. A little less than a year later, the Tigers roll into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and Montgomery is thinking about that promise he made as much as ever.
Saturday’s noon kickoff gives Montgomery and the Pirates an opportunity to get revenge on Memphis as well as further its chances to make good on that postseason promise.
“I think about (the postseason promise) every day. It's something we need to get back to, there's no question,” Montgomery said.
Memphis was a powerhouse in 2017, going 10-1 and winning the American Athletic Conference west division before losing to University of Central Florida in the AAC championship game. This season has been different, as Memphis comes in 4-4 and just 1-3 in AAC play.
Memphis has been struck with inconsistencies this season. The Tigers blew a 30-17 lead to UCF and lost to Missouri 65-33 before its bye last week. Montgomery wouldn’t call out the Tigers’ inconsistency, as the Pirates have dealt with their own all season.
"It's been hard to say anyone else is inconsistent because of some of our inconsistencies, it's hard for me to say that. I think that they've been unfortunate at times,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said what hurt Memphis is the same inconsistency which has hurt ECU all season. Montgomery said a lot of games come down to five or six plays, and that ECU would be an elite defense if it did not allow five or six big plays in games often this season.
Against Memphis, Montgomery said ECU specifically needs to stay disciplined in the run game. Montgomery wants the Pirates to stay in their gaps and prevent the big plays that are backbreakers.
"Defensively, we have to do what we've been doing and then do it five more plays. As I look at every game this year, and it's not just us, it's defenses everywhere,” Montgomery said. “You go from being a good defense to an elite defense, or an average defense to an elite defense, by five or six plays a game.”
It was a similar sentiment for the offense as well, noting five or six plays where either the offensive line protection broke down, the receivers ran the wrong route or dropped passes, or the offense was just “misaligned” in general.
Montgomery said freshman quarterback Holton Ahlers played great in his first collegiate start. Montgomery called for the rest of the offense to step up their game to help Ahlers be successful against Memphis.
“You have to be able to do your own job and then we can go out and let this guy execute the game plan,” Montgomery said. “Because if he can go out and have a productive game, which I know he can, it's all going to be based on what the people around him can do.”
Montgomery hopes coming off a bye week this season will help ECU against Memphis. Montgomery said the cornerback group benefited the most from the off week from a health standpoint.
On the field, Montgomery said the bye week most benefited Ahlers, giving him another week to become more comfortable with the offensive game plan.
With ECU going into Saturday’s game at 2-5 (0-4 AAC) with four (potentially five, depending on NC State) games left, a win over Memphis would go a long way in improving ECU’s chances of reaching six wins and a bowl game. It would also be redemptive for Montgomery and the Pirates.
“I think about it (having six wins and reaching a bowl game) every day. I think about it all the time. This is a huge game,” Montgomery said.