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East Carolina Football: 2017 Pirates Preview and Prediction

Quay Johnson, East Carolina Football

Quay Johnson, East Carolina Football

East Carolina head coach Scottie Montgomery’s debut got off to a great start with back-to-back wins. Unfortunately that was followed by five straight losses as the Pirates would win only one more game and finished 3-9 and tied for last place in the American Athletic Conference East Division. The biggest culprit was a defense that couldn’t stop anyone, which necessitated a myriad of changes on that side of the ball. The hope is that a new scheme, new coaches and new personnel can turn things around. The offense wasn’t really the problem last season, other than turnovers, and should be solid once again even with some uncertainty at quarterback and having to replace a receiver who rewrote the record books. It’s still early in Montgomery’s tenure, which is a good thing as Year 2 could look a lot like Year 1. 

Previewing East Carolina Football’s Offense for 2017

Despite an offense that was often potent for coach Scottie Montgomery’s first East Carolina team, the Pirates still walked the plank in a 3–9 campaign. Junior quarterback Gardner Minshew was set to take over, but Duke graduate transfer Thomas Sirk could win the job in preseason camp.

To enjoy smoother sailing, Montgomery wants to emphasize a potentially potent offensive line and find the running game ECU could never muster last season (10th in the AAC at 132.4 rushing yards per game). It’s running back by committee among Devin Anderson, Hussein Howe, Anthony Scott and Derrell Scott, none of whom rushed for more than 384 yards last year. Clemson graduate transfer Tyshon Dye is set to join the team for fall workouts and adds more competition to the backfield.

But Montgomery knows his team, particularly that beat-up defense, needs a balanced offense. Count on the Pirates still doing their best work through the air, where the QB can look to seniors Quay Johnson, Jimmy Williams and Davon Grayson along with promising true freshman Leroy Henley.

Garrett McGihn will make the move from guard to center and will be joined by returning starting tackles Brandon Smith and Messiah Rice up front.

Previewing East Carolina Football’s Defense for 2017

Ouch! That’s going to leave a mark. The Pirates were last in the nation in quarterback sacks and last in turnovers forced. They had eight of both, and some teams do that in two games. So enter new defensive line coach Robert Prunty, new secondary coach Brandon Lynch, and a lot of new faces on the depth chart.

ECU is transitioning to a four-man front, and technically they have two starters back plus newcomer Tyree Owens, who originally signed with West Virginia. Senior end Kiante Anderson might be a better fit in this scheme, and there’s experience and depth up front. Inside linebacker Jordan Williams, the team leader in tackles, is back, and the hope is that the new base scheme frees him and Ray Tillman to make more plays. Minnesota graduate transfer Gaelin Elmore should provide some punch to the pass rush after registering 7.5 tackles for a loss over the last two seasons. 

The secondary has experience with Colby Gore and Corey Seargent returning on the corners and the addition of Auburn transfer Tim Irvin. Irvin was spectacular in the spring alongside steady free safety Travon Simmons, who was too often literally the last line of defense last season. Veteran nickel back Bobby Fulp also starts in the new alignment. The Pirates also added Clemson graduate transfer Korin Wiggins in mid-June, which adds more depth and talent to the secondary for 2017.

Previewing East Carolina Football’s Specialists for 2017

Sophomore Jake Verity, who hit 1-of-2 field goals last year, will put his best foot forward as kicker and punter. Chris Love averaged 21.2 yards on kickoff returns, but improving play on special teams is a must. The Pirates ranked near the bottom of the league in both kickoff and punt coverage.

Final Analysis 

College Football Rankings: East Carolina

The Pirates won their first two games, nearly upset South Carolina, and then the ship sank. It was the school’s worst season in 12 years, plagued by untimely turnovers, special teams snafus and a porous Pirates defense.  The coaching staff attributed some of the issues to an overall lack of depth, and as with any coaching change, there were some players who weren’t buying in through the transition.

Now Montgomery has all hands on deck, and he hopes that a new defensive scheme (4-2-5), more experience and a little more depth can shore up that side of the ball a bit. Offensively, Sirk — assuming he wins the job — has big cleats to fill, as does a receiving corps without Zay Jones, the FBS career receptions leader. There’s talent, though, and an attack that should be tailored to Sirk’s strengths.

Look for the Pirates’ prolific passing attack to be just fine, maybe even better if ECU can run the ball, too. There are questions on special teams, but overall Montgomery, who has earned props on the recruiting trail, is feeling goodwill in Greenville.

National Ranking: 112

AAC East Prediction: 6

(Quay Johnson photo courtesy of East Carolina Athletics)