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Montgomery, Pirates regroup

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Virginia Tech's Cam Phillips (center) catches the ball for a touchdown while being defended by East Carolina's Korrin Wiggins (left) and Corey Seargent. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Monday, September 18, 2017

East Carolina football needs a fresh start, and thanks to an unexpected schedule change in the midst of hurricane season, the Pirates will get it on Sunday.

An upbeat Scottie Montgomery addressed media members on Monday, and the second-year head coach who has overseen a brutal 0-3 start to the season said he is raring to kick off American Athletic Conference play on a rare Sunday game at Connecticut. The Huskies (1-1) are the only team the Pirates have beaten in their last 13 games.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” said Montgomery, whose team has been outscored 154-51 this season. “The things that we’ve been through to get us to this point I think really will show to be great preparation tools moving forward.”

After not risking graduate transfer quarterback Thomas Sirk in the team’s 64-17 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday following a concussion Sirk suffered at West Virginia the previous week, Montgomery has the former Duke passer back in the top spot on this week’s depth chart.

Backup Gardner Minshew, who was initially named the starter to open the season, had his moments in his second start of the season against the Hokies. He threw another long touchdown pass to Trevon Brown and helped ECU to a 17-7 lead in the first quarter, but Montgomery said the QB’s inconsistency showed after that as ECU gave up 57 unanswered points to finish the game.

“I thought there were a few times we could have been a lot more accurate with the football and I thought we could have stepped up in the pocket,” Montgomery said of Minshew against the Hokies. “I thought he started the game on fire. He was so accurate in the beginning, and I just thought as the game went on there were a couple of times at the line scrimmage we got some play calls that I didn’t necessarily like after the play call went in another way.”

Montgomery noted Minshew’s bad decision on an interception, and also said he continues to like the run element that comes with Sirk under center.

Front line jumble

Junior Garrett McGhin was supposed to be the Pirates’ new answer at center, but in the team’s 0-3 start he has shifted from the middle to left guard and now to right guard as the team tries to get its best five-man combination on the field. McGhin injured his foot against Virginia Tech but aims to return in his third spot this season, as senior left tackle Messiah Rice is back in the lineup following a suspension, sophomore D’Ante Smith has shifted inward to left guard and freshman John Spellacy continues to man the center spot.

One positive, according to Montgomery, has been the exemplary play of senior right tackle Brandon Smith this season.

“We need a little bit more experience at left tackle,” Montgomery said of the return of Rice, a former starter. “We think D’Ante is extremely talented and we think putting somebody on both sides of him will give him the ability to use his best asset, and that’s his power, his pad level. But we also were trying to find the best five on the field.”

Defensive tweaks

Montgomery said the first week with promoted defensive coordinator Robert Prunty in charge brought better ball pursuit and positioning, but nonetheless saw the Pirates cough up a season-high 675 yards against Virginia Tech.

“Last week we weren’t even in the picture on the plays we gave up. This week we were in the picture on the plays we gave up, but they won some of the one-on-one battles,” Montgomery said.

While the head coach said none of his defenders is being benched this week, he said the heavy fluctuation of personnel seen against the Hokies will continue, specifically on the defensive line, where players like junior Shaun James logged a good deal of time, and in the secondary where former mainstay cornerback Corey Seargent reemerged and transfer Marcus Holton Jr. also played a high number of snaps.

Sophomore safety Tim Irvin left the stadium against Tech with a protective boot on his left ankle, and Montgomery held him out of Sunday’s practice but said he expects the former Auburn Tiger to be ready to play at Connecticut on Sunday.

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

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