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Pirates picking up pieces

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The ECU hosted the UCF for the Pirates' AAC home opener at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday. The Knights won the game, 47-29.

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Scottie Montgomery admitted Monday his East Carolina football team is facing pressure as it heads to South Florida this weekend in the face of three straight losses.

The ECU head coach said watching the tape of last week’s 47-29 shelling at the hands of Central Florida was very revealing, as his team twice had momentum on its side but was ultimately run over by a 24-point UCF fourth quarter.

Now, the Pirates (2-3, 0-1 American Athletic Conference) must hit the road again to take on one of the league’s heavyweights in East Division leader USF (4-1, 1-0) in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.

“There’s pressure, but that’s the way it should be. That’s what we signed up for, that’s what we’re here for,” said Montgomery, whose team took a brief 7-0 lead on the Knights in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium before another array of special teams mistakes mixed with five turnovers to help UCF erupt late in the game to offset what had been a 23-21 game after three quarters. “There should be pressure on the coaches, pressure on the players, but is it any more than last week? It is, because this is the next week and we didn’t win last week.”

The first-year ECU coach enjoyed a 2-0 start before red zone, special teams and turnover problems began in a 20-15 setback at South Carolina, became full blown in a 54-17 loss at Virginia Tech and persisted in the UCF rout.

What’s more, the trend of combining two problems — turnovers in the red zone — also continued.

Trailing 16-7 after allowing a safety and touchdown in quick succession, ECU starting quarterback Philip Nelson zipped a pass to the right hash mark to freshman Deondre Farrier, who spun and, in attempt to extend the play, steered right into the path of defender TJ Mutcherson, who drilled Farrier and sent the ball flying into the end zone, where it was jousted by the Knights for a touchback.

“The first thing that jumped off the stat sheet at me of course, the reason that the game was not won, was the turnovers,” Montgomery said at Monday’s weekly news conference in advance of Saturday’s noon kickoff in Tampa, the start of a difficult AAC stretch that follows with Navy next Thursday at home and a trip to Cincinnati on Oct. 22. “I think our lack of success in the red zone is directly connected to us turning the football over.”

Montgomery noted that most of the team’s turnovers, including seven fumbles, have been committed by young players or players at first-time positions.

The coach said he thinks highly of Farrier, who is fifth on the team with eight catches for 112 yards and scored his team’s first touchdown against UCF, but said the player must continue to grow past what he described as a fundamental mistake on the play.

“Deondre decides, on the perimeter, to take a drop-step and go back inside to the defense,” Montgomery said of the turnover, adding that the coaches and players must work together to eliminate such game-changing mistakes. “The No. 1 thing in that situation that he knows to do is to keep that ball on the perimeter. Even if he’s hit from the inside on the perimeter he’s likely to go out of bounds. Those things can be corrected and those things will be corrected.”

Injuries

Nelson was set to be fully evaluated Monday after leaving Saturday’s game in the third quarter in the wake of a vicious hit in the end zone that left him on the field for several minutes before he was taken directly to the locker room without returning.

Montgomery said he expected to know more about both Nelson and sophomore starting cornerback Corey Seargent, who also sustained an apparent leg injury on the game’s opening series and did not return.

Neither player is listed on this week’s injured list, which only names players already ruled out for the USF game.

Those on the list are starting nose tackle Demetri McGill, linebacker Joe Allely, wide receiver Davon Grayson and offensive linemen Jared Huneycutt and D’Ante Smith.

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 or follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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