Brighter days ahead in Pirate-Land?

Published 11:21 am Monday, October 16, 2017

College football has reached mid-season and while some schools have better than expected passing grades (Clemson, NC State, Wake Forest, Virginia), others have adjusted the curve – and not necessarily upward (Old Dominion, Duke, South Carolina), and still others are probably playing for anything from a strong finish to next year, because their bowl hopes are pretty much gone (UNC, ECU).

While Dave Doeren is at the doorstep of a contract extension in West Raleigh, and things are relatively secure for Larry Fedora up the interstate in Chapel Hill, too many – maybe waaay too many – seem to have given up on Scottie Montgomery and the Purple and Gold.

Well, I haven’t. At least, not yet. And I’ll cite two reasons: the formidable opposition this season, and that there are no quick fixes. It seems everyone can come up with a starting point, and some of them are valid.

Last Saturday’s 34-10 loss to Temple marked just the second time ECU did not play an opponent ranked in the Top-25 (yes, James Madison is ranked #1 in the FCS coaches poll; and when it comes to Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and South Florida – ‘nuff said).

This Saturday night (tonight) they will be in Orlando against Central Florida (#25 in the AP poll), making five of the first seven teams they’ve lined up against being nationally-ranked.

They say you play the hand you’re dealt, but somehow this year the cards for the Pirates seem to keep coming up sixes and fours.

One of the saddest things to me after attending the USF game was the lack of support the Bucs are being given with such dwindling attendance in the stands. True, this is a far cry from the overflow numbers they got in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium when they were playing State and Carolina just a couple of years ago, but still no reason to go “No Quarter” on your home team!?!

Montgomery said one thing he and his staff hopes to fix is the team’s discipline on the field and how it’s pulling down the execution. In the USF game alone, the opposing team racked up 102 yards in penalties. Math’s not my swiftest suit, but 100 yards translates into a touchdown. That might have made a difference in a close game, but this was a 30-point blowout!

Right now, ECU has the worst total defense in the FBS, allowing nearly 600 total yards per game, and ranks 127th or worse in all four major stat categories. They’ve tried fixing the problem: making a couple of midseason personnel moves, reassigning defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson after Week-2 and handing the coordinator duties over to Robert Prunty.

This week they brought back John Gutekunst who was a special team’s assistant for the Pirates under Skip Holtz eight years ago, and has been a defensive coordinator at several major FBS programs. With his more than 50 years of football experience he’ll be expected to train his defensive eagle-eye onto the field from the press box and make determinations on adjustments that can be made to help salvage the season; or, at least try to get the defense somewhere close to respectability.

There are no easy answers coming out of Greenville. I applauded when ECU upped its game to the American Athletic Conference from Conference-USA, but I also knew this was a giant leap, and the school’s baby steps were still wobbly.

Recruiting looks promising, especially with having to replace a starting quarterback again next year and the defense desperately needing some depth.

No one’s saying the future is now, but let’s try to make this crystal ball a little less cloudy here in the present.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.