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GAMEDAY: ECU, BYU eyeing 2nd win

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East Carolina inside linebacker Aaron Ramseur pursues Temple quarterback Logan Marchi during their game in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Oct. 7. (Photo: Rob Goldberg, ECU Athletics)

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By NATHAN SUMMERS
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, October 21, 2017

A homecoming victory tonight could be a springboard toward a better future for East Carolina, but it will have to come against a BYU team just a desperate to build steps out of college football's basement.

Despite their schematic differences, the Pirates and the Cougars will see a lot of themselves when they line up across from one another for tonight's 7 o'clock kickoff in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Both teams are 1-6, meaning this misery bowl will offer small comfort to the winner and another layer of doom for the loser.

ECU dropped to 1-3 in American Athletic Conference play a week ago at Central Florida, where the Pirates were pummeled, 63-21, marking the third time this season they have allowed more than 60 points. The hosts' defensive unit is also being gouged for a weekly average of exactly 600 yards.

The season-long trends have seen the Pirates trailing by considerable halftime scores each of the last two weeks – 24-3 to Temple and 42-14 to the Knights.

The bad season has spelled bad attendance in the Pirates' often deafening stadium. The last two home crowds for Temple and South Florida were both smaller than any the team has played in front of in more than a decade.

Second-year head coach Scottie Montgomery nonetheless urged fans to fill the stadium for homecoming tonight, saying numerous times this week those fans are witnessing a slow, painful but vital process right now. He said that process includes, but certainly is not limited to, beating BYU tonight.

“We're trying to build this program and we are building this program and there are things that you can't see,” said Montgomery, 4-15 in his tenure at ECU. “We're eliminating all the distractions. We've got guys on this team that deserve to be put on a pedestal because of the way that they play and perform away from the field. I'm really happy about the future and some of the young guys we have, and some of the old guys that are teaching the young guys.”

Independent BYU does not have a conference race to worry about, but the Provo, Utah, school steeped in football tradition doesn't like a loser any more than fans in Greenville. This is its first-ever trip to Greenville.

Last week, as the Pirates lost their third straight game following a Sept. 24 victory at Connecticut, BYU’s losing streak hit six in a 35-10 defeat at Mississippi State.

“They've played a ridiculously tough schedule,” Montgomery said of the Cougars. “They played Wisconsin, they played LSU — big-time opponents — Mississippi State. I don't think anybody would trade their schedule to this point in time. You're just looking at a good football team that's gone against the likes of Boise (State) and some other (teams) that have traditionally been great football programs.”

ECU's offense continued to sputter in Orlando despite its trademark early sparks. The Pirates scored in each of the first two quarters, but again were forced to watch their defensive counterparts get slayed by the Knights for six TDs in the same time frame.

With the game already seemingly over early in the second half, graduate transfer quarterback Thomas Sirk (1,473 pass yards, 137 rush yds., 11 total TDs, eight interceptions) was on the sideline and junior backup Gardner Minshew (533 pass yds., four TDs) was once again replacing him.

Montgomery offered plenty of reassurance to Sirk about his starting job, which he actually took from Minshew early in the season.

“He'll be the starter. He loves when I give him a hard time,” Montgomery said of Sirk, who he previously coached at their respective stops at Duke. “We've met several times about just moving forward and what we want to do with him. He's in a great mood right now. That would be hard for a lot of people coming out of the start of the season the way we've come out of it.”

The team's midseason youth movement is perhaps most evident in the team's struggling running back department, where sophomore Hussein Howe (44 carries, 190 yds., TD) has taken over the team lead, just ahead of true freshman Darius Pinnix (38-154-1), who cashed in his best game as a Pirate at UCF and has taken over the top spot on the depth chart ahead of Howe.

Grad transfer Tyshon Dye and junior former starter Derrell Scott have largely taken a back seat.

Also seemingly missing in action in the pass game last week was junior wide receiver and key playmaker Trevon Brown (23 receptions, 384 yds., two TDs), and senior cog Jimmy Williams (18-294-1) continued to struggle.

None of that, however, has slowed the pace of senior Davon Grayson, who reeled in his sixth TD pass of the season in Florida and who leads the Pirates with 37 catches for 631 yards. Fellow senior Quay Johnson (25-279-1) has also remained highly productive throughout his team's struggles.

Up front, ECU expects to return freshman center John Spellacy today, meaning junior Garrett McGhin can shift back to guard and likely provide greater balance across the line.

The BYU defense is built around tackles leader and starting outside linebacker Fred Warner, whose 56 stops (team-high 33 solo) include six for loss, tied for the team lead, and a sack. Warner has also forced and recovered a fumble.

Junior end Sione Takitaki, one of more than 40 players on the BYU roster of Polynesian descent, also has six tackles for loss to go with his 40 tackles and a BYU-best 2.5 sacks. On the other end, junior Corbin Kaufusi has 41 stops, including 2.5 TFLs two sacks and a blocked kick.

At the back end, sophomore cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku is a big-play threat with two interceptions snared in the loss against the Bulldogs last week.

The ECU defense continues to reside at the bottom of the pack in the Football Bowl Subdivision, including rush defense (126th), pass defense (128th), pass efficiency defense (129th), total defense (129th), scoring defense (129th), first down defense (126th) and third down defense (129th).

Injuries continue to haunt the unit this week, as Montgomery detailed the long-term knee injury for senior defensive end Kiante Anderson, the team's sacks and tackles for loss leader whose presence was already missed at UCF. Also, junior cornerback Corey Seargent continues to battle a hamstring injury, senior strong Bobby Fulp is nursing a bruised quad and sophomore nickelback Tim Irvin continues to play through an ankle injury.

Senior inside linebacker Jordan Williams continues to lead the defense with 53 tackles to go with 2.5 TFLs, while grad transfer free safety Korrin Wiggins has 52 stops and a pick despite serving a one-game suspension last week for a violation of academic policy along with grad DE Gaelin Elmore (12 tackles).

Despite seemingly having the man they want at quarterback in junior Tanner Mangum (775 pass yds., three TDs, seven INTs), BYU has been stifled to 10 or less points in four of its seven games this season, including being shut out at home by LSU.

The rush-heavy offense has employed a total of 14 different ball-carriers, all with limited success. Leading the big group is Ula Tolutau (57-241-2) and Squally Canada (45-205-1). Where the Pirates have choked out just six rushing TDs this season, BYU has managed just half that with the three mentioned previously.

Similarly, no Cougars receiver has more than one TD catch. Matt Bushman (24-252-0) leads that group in terms of catches, followed by Talon Shumway (15-162-0) and Aleva Hifo (15-130-1).

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

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