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More shakeup at running back

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East Carolina running back Hussein Howe (6) tries to break free against North Carolina A&T on Sept. 2, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

East Carolina’s longest run play against North Carolina A&T was a 9-yarder up the middle by Hussein Howe on fourth-and-2 during the final drive of the game in a 28-23 loss by ECU to begin the season.

As the Pirates prepare for an even bigger game Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium against North Carolina, and after that a likely ferocious Virginia Tech defense in Blacksburg, Va., ECU is still trying to figure out how to run the ball better and the best rotation in its backfield. It had 29 rushes for 68 yards against A&T, compared to going 38-of-66 passing for 314 yards.

To offensive coordinator Tony Petersen, the run game remains an issue but he said sometimes it is not as easy and just looking at the statistics.

“A lot of those throws, and it was like Houston last year, where we are calling a run play and they were putting eight or nine guys in the box and we were having to take the outside (pass),” Petersen said. “Obviously we have to execute better when we are spitting it out and have to complete those, but that’s part of our run game that doesn’t show up on the stats on Saturdays.”

East Carolina was 118th in the nation in rush offense a year ago at 107.7 yards per game.

The Pirates began this season with a pecking order of senior Anthony Scott starting followed by redshirt freshman Trace Christian, junior Hussein Howe and sophomore Darius Pinnix. An updated depth chart Tuesday had Scott still as the starter, but Howe and Pinnix listed as splitting the No. 2 spot and Christian, a redshirt freshman who lost a fumble against A&T, as fourth-string.

UNC played last Saturday afternoon in West Coast action, losing 24-17 at California, and ECU is on a short week after having its opener postponed from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon because of thunderstorms in Greenville.

“We are good game-plan wise, but the biggest thing we have had to catch back up on is the physical (side) with the players,” said ECU coach Scottie Montgomery, whose squad did not wear shoulders pads for Wednesday’s practice. “The hardest part is turning these players around and usually we have two physical days. (On Tuesday) I decided to go with a physical day first and now start to get their bodies back as we move forward.”

Montgomery said players who have been vocal in the days after the A&T loss include senior right tackle Garrett McGhin and Howe, who had two carries for 15 yards in the defeat.

“Hussein is a situation of a guy who didn’t play as much as I probably would have liked him to play, but to be the guy who says that we have to go get it done is very impressive,” Montgomery said.

ECU completed passes to seven different players versus the Aggies. Terrell Green led the way with 10 catches for 85 yards in a breakout performance, and freshman Blake Proehl was second with nine grabs for 65 yards and a touchdown.

Scott lacked the breakaway ability that he and the coaching staff were hoping to get out of him, finishing with 12 carries for 34 yards. Christian had 10 carries for 20 yards.

Six different players ran the ball against Cal for the Tar Heels, who averaged 4.3 yards per rush to total 164 yards on the ground. Quarterback Nathan Elliot (10 carries, 58 yards) proved to be a legitimate run threat, and Ohio State transfer Antonio Williams was solid with 17 attempts for 47 yards and a TD.

“It is nothing that we haven’t seen on film and they are pretty good at running the ball, but we are going bring it with our best players and our best players are going to play,” Pirate starting inside linebacker Bruce Bivens said. “We’re going to handle our business.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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