Several East Carolina Pirates saw their college football careers come to an end Saturday, but for some, the 37-10 loss at Temple to end the season is just one small blip on the radar in relation to what lies ahead.
After what seemed to be an impressive start to the season in a blowout victory against Western Carolina followed by a win over in-state rival NC State, the Pirates’ season quickly began to derail. After the two wins at home, ECU lost nine of its last 10, showing its undoubted struggles this season.
"Just a hard season," ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery said. "Altogether, we started well with Western Carolina and NC State. And as the year went on, Virginia Tech beat us up a little bit, and we never really responded from that. I knew it, saw it, and we tried to adjust and do the things we could but couldn't get the bleeding stopped after that game.”
Throughout the season the Pirates struggled with maintaining a healthy roster, but ECU’s largest downfall was self-inflicted wounds on the field.
The Pirate offense did not take care of the ball, turning it over 24 times on the season. The defense lacked the attacking style needed to pressure opposing teams into turnovers and only generated eight sacks all season. ECU rarely started possessions on a short field or benefitted from a score and ended up second from last in FBS turnover differential.
"Our offensive front will be a priority, defensive front will be a priority,” Montgomery said about the upcoming offseason. “You've always got to have playmakers. We'll spend a lot of time making sure that we add some competitive depth in places. We're going to have to have some people who can come in and make plays on our defense really, really quickly.”
There were times when the Pirates’ offense seemed to click this season, moving the ball effectively down the field. On the other hand, when ECU reached the red zone the offense often floundered and struggled to put points on the scoreboard — ranking it in the bottom six percent of FBS teams in red zone percentage.
The week prior to ECU’s trip to Philadelphia, the least amount of yards the offense had compiled throughout the season came in the Pirates’ blowout 66-31 loss to Navy with 414 yards.
Although ECU did not have many of those mistakes in its final game against Temple, the Pirates were still completely out matched against the No. 3 defense in the country, as they only generated 225 yards offensively and scored a season-low 10 points.
A week after breaking the FBS career receptions record, ECU senior wide receiver Zay Jones reeled in seven catches to break the FBS single season receptions record, showing his dominance for the Pirates this season.
Moving forward, Montgomery is determined to learn from his bumps and bruises in his 3-9 season as a first-year head coach.
"I'm not giving in whatsoever,” said Montgomery. “You'll get the best out of me, I can guarantee you that. I'm on the road Monday recruiting. I'll be evaluating the whole time. We'll be a better program and a better team [next year]. I can guarantee that.”
Montgomery will need to figure out how to improve without several graduating seniors, including the record-breaking Jones.