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ECU coach will research turnovers

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ECU's Cam White tackles SMU's Courtland Sutton during the first half at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C. on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Scottie Montgomery will do anything to solve his football team’s turnover crisis during the offseason, including hitting the books and working the phones.

His East Carolina team lost its second straight game and the seventh in its last eight on Saturday against SMU, and again it was ECU turnovers — five of them this time — that turned the game around for the visiting Mustangs.

On Monday, Montgomery acknowledged such on-field miscues have largely characterized the season to this point.

The Pirates (3-7, 1-5 American Athletic Conference) host senior day on Saturday against league title contender Navy knowing they cannot qualify for a bowl game this season.

“Turnovers have been the biggest contributor to where we are in this season,” Montgomery said at Monday’s weekly news conference in advance of Saturday’s 4 p.m. clash against the 7-2 Midshipmen. “We have tried to address it and worked in several ways to fix the problems.”

The first-year head coach said the team’s four fumbles against the Mustangs were not merely about execution or protecting the ball, but instead were rooted in mental lapses.

Pirate quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Gardner Minshew each tossed interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, and Montgomery said it has a profound effect on defenses when so many points are scored without them on the field.

With just the Navy tilt and a difficult road trip to Temple left for ECU this season, Montgomery said he knows his team’s turnover issues will live into the offseason, but to that end, the coach has plans.

“Research starts it. The first thing you do is you find programs that have had to go through it,” Montgomery said of his long-term plan to address turnovers. “You can guess and try to fix this and try to fix that. What I’m doing is trying to find a program that has had it, has reversed it and what they did. So I’ll be on the phone and I’ll be doing as much research as I can.”

Montgomery said identifying who the turnovers are coming from and where on the field and in which personnel packages they are occurring most will be critical.

The coach also noted that most of the Pirates’ 12 interceptions have been “unusual” in that they have happened outside the hash marks.

QB shuffle

Montgomery said senior season-long starter Nelson did not practice on Sunday night as he continues to battle a nagging shoulder injury, but that sophomore backup Minshew did work out with the team despite his own shoulder concern.

It has been Minshew who has finished the last two games after replacing Nelson in the second quarter of each, the first time due to Nelson’s injury, but last week because of performance. Minshew also took over in consecutive games against Central Florida and South Florida due to Nelson head injuries.

“We feel like both of them should be able to practice (today) but we don’t know completely where our quarterback situation will be,” Montgomery said, noting he will determine his starter based on this week’s practices. “They’ve got to be sharp. I feel like in that (SMU) game, we missed some critical throws. Once again we missed some plays to Zay (Jones) that we had schemed up that were very hurtful. It was both of them, not just Philip.”

Injuries

Despite missing the SMU game with a shoulder injury, senior rush linebacker Dayon Pratt does not appear on this week’s injured list, nor do any other new names.

Still out are linebackers Joe Allely and Kendall Futrell, receiver Davon Grayson, running back Anthony Scott, offensive linemen Jared Huneycutt and D’Ante Smith and kickoff man Caleb Pratt.

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

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