A few weeks into this college football season, the simple explanation is paired with the complex challenges facing teams like East Carolina trying to find their way.
The simple part is stating the only way to create a winning culture is from wins. The hard part can be achieving the actual game victories, especially when there are heartbreaking losses like ECU had Saturday in a last-second, 20-17 defeat at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to a South Carolina squad that is bound to struggle in the Southeastern Conference again this year and was never in the lead until the final buzzer. SC’s comeback victory added to woes Pirate Nation is trying to shed from six straight losing seasons.
When third-year ECU coach Mike Houston says the locker room culture is right, that players enjoy being around each other and competing together, practice habits have improved, the roster talent is improving and there is hope, it is believable. There is evidence of that being correct.
What also is a fact is the Pirates’ 0-2 record. The difference between 1-1 and 0-2 is noticeable right now for East Carolina, which is viewed as an underdog again this week for its trip to 2-0 Marshall.
The only way to break this frustrating streak of losing seasons is to string together victories, thus creating signs of a winning culture. Then posting one winning season and more winning campaigns breeds a true culture of winning, which is trying if not an elite national program.
ECU still has games against Marshall, Charleston Southern and Tulane to try to achieve at least a 2-3 record through five weeks. If the Pirates do not have two victories by Oct. 3, then a winning season would become extremely difficult.
Part of Saturday’s roller coaster ride of an afternoon for the Pirate team and its passionate fans was a wave of potentially game-changing plays in the first quarter and a 14-0 ECU lead by early in the second quarter.
There was a trick play touchdown pass by ECU slot receiver Tyler Snead on the first play from scrimmage. The Pirate defense created two turnovers in the opening quarter and another in the second.
South Carolina had minus-18 rushing yards in the opening half.
Yet, the halftime score was only 14-7 in favor of ECU. A South Carolina defensive touchdown during the final minute of the second quarter saved the Gamecocks from being out of reach.
Pirate quarterback Holton Ahlers throwing for only 77 yards in the game was an obvious factor in the outcome. C.J. Johnson was limited to two catches for 15 yards, giving him 49 yards in two games.
ECU’s offense, as a whole, averaged 3.03 yards per play after the Snead touchdown toss to Jsi Hatfield.
South Carolina freshman running back Juju McDowell also emerging during the final drive to set up the winning field goal was a major factor. That is a credit to McDowell and his blockers for stepping up for their team in the fourth quarter when momentum was teetering back and forth.
The South Carolina matchup was a game East Carolina could have won. Claiming ECU should have won also is valid.
But the definite factor in every college football game is the winning team ends with the most points. It is a 100 percent clear determination, no matter if it is a major upset, an overtime game, a blowout or comeback victory that is not sealed until a winning kick in the final seconds like the Gamecocks were able to piece together versus ECU.
The only way to gain a winning culture is via wins.