ECU second scrimmage: Take a punch, give a punch
By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector
Saturday, August 17, 2019
Moments of reflection Saturday brought East Carolina first-year head football coach Mike Houston back to the spring.
The physicality he saw Saturday during the Pirates' final preseason scrimmage was vastly different from the spring Purple-Gold Game.
Darius Pinnix displayed his punishing rushing style for the offense, which produced big plays early but also suffered a few costly interceptions late in the day.
On defense, a steady pass rush of six sacks was led by a big day from senior D-End Kendall Futrell. The scrimmage ended on a sack by fellow lineman Dorian Hardy.
"I just remember coming out of the spring, and it went well, but we had hardly no pass rush and really never challenged the offense to stop the run," Houston said.
Projected starting right guard Sean Bailey was sidelined for another day with an injury and did not play.
Free safety Tank Robinson benefitted from aggressive defense in front of him and snagged a couple errant throws for his two interceptions.
The first was a pick-six thrown by Reid Herring when Robinson's timing was superb and he swiftly cut in front of the intended receiver and coasted to the end zone. The INT on the next possession came on an overthrow by Holton Ahlers to Tyler Snead across the middle for Robinson to tip the ball to himself and secure it for another turnover.
"It was nice to see, because we have been working hard to get some," defensive coordinator Bob Trott said of takeaways. "We emphasize that all the time. I think what the scrimmage did is it got our guys in position. Right now what our team needs is a lot of situations and to go play, because that is the best learning experience you can have."
Offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick agreed with Houston that the scrimmage was defined by its physical nature.
"It was like a heavyweight fight -- both sides slugging each other," Kirkpatrick said. "The offense came out and took it 71 yards and scored. Then the defense punched us and knocked us down, and then we rallied. It was just back and forth, and that is kind of what we want as coaches is it to be super competitive."
Ahlers and Herring finished with 340 combined passing yards on 22-of-41 accuracy.
But it was some of the battles in the trenches that still stood out to Houston as he participated in post-scrimmage interviews during ECU's annual media day event.
"What you watched out there today, that was competitive and they were getting after each other," he said. "There were big hits on both sides of the ball. ... Both sides made plays, and our offense had a really impressive first drive again this week."
ECU will begin classes Monday and the Pirates will switch from the morning preseason workouts they have been conducting to their in-season afternoon practices.
Their season begins Aug. 31 at N.C. State, the team that handed the Pirates a 58-3 loss in Raleigh to end last season for ECU's third straight 3-9 record and Scottie Montgomery to be replaced by Houston from James Madison.
"I can't wait," said Ahlers, who was injured and inactive against the Wolfpack in 2018, but he was instrumental with two rushing touchdowns in ECU's 41-19 win over North Carolina earlier in the season. "We have a bad taste in our mouth from a couple of games from last year. There are a couple of games that every single day we are reminded of and we are excited about it."
Contact Ronnie Woodward at email@example.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.