One week after naming Gardner Minshew as East Carolina’s starting quarterback, coach Scottie Montgomery has changed course and replaced him with graduate transfer Thomas Sirk for Saturday’s game at West Virginia.
Sirk, who played for Montgomery at Duke when the coach was the Blue Devils’ offensive coordinator in 2015, completed 21 of 35 passes for 210 yards and two interceptions in relief of Minshew in last week’s season-opening 34-14 loss to James Madison.
Although his quarterback rating was just 38.8, it was still better than the 15.2 Minshew posted while going 7 of 18 for 82 yards and one interception in the first half.
“It had been a close battle going through camp but it was also clear leaving camp that Gardner was ahead by everything that we put together,” Montgomery said of Minshew, who was voted a captain by his teammates prior to last week’s game. “The way the team voted for captain everything was all aligned for Gardner to be the deal. But you have got to make decisions in this business or the decisions will be made for you. So I made the decision to put Thomas Sirk in there and Thomas Sirk will be our guy.”
Among the reasons Montgomery gave for making the change was “competitive nature.”
He specifically mentioned a play in the third quarter in which Sirk was hit hard by a James Madison defender. Roughing the passer was called, but upon getting up from the turf, Sirk began motioning to the crowd in an effort to get it to make some noise.
“I thought that he gave our team a big boost when he got up off the ground, he could have laid down,” the second-year coach said. “Right then I thought that was the spirit of the leader. That moment, when he got up off the ground, it changed everything for me just because I saw a guy that no matter what the situation, he was going to get up and compete for us.”
Sirk isn’t the only grad transfer likely to play a more prominent role for the Pirates Saturday than in the opening game.
Running back Tyshon Dye was expected to make a big impact on ECU’s woeful run game after coming in from Clemson, but he didn’t have a single carry in the loss to James Madison. Montgomery said that was more situational than intentional and suggested he would get the ball this week.
The Pirates rushed for only 70 yards in the loss, 45 of which were from Derrell Scott.
“I definitely want to see a much heavier dose of Tyshon Dye,” Montgomery said. “That is not something that we said, ‘We aren’t going to give him the ball, we’re not going to even give Derrell the ball more.’ We were really inefficient on first down.”
That was one of a multitude of problems the Pirates experienced in their season opener.
The loss that was ECU’s 10th in its last 11 games dating to last season and with upcoming games against nonconference powers West Virginia and Virginia Tech in the next two weeks, panic has already begun to set in among a nervous fan base.
But not Montgomery.
“I don’t doubt that there is some panic,” he said. “For me I told the team and I will just tell everybody, don’t blink. We are not in a situation with this many games left to go play; smart decisions need to be made. And they had to be made over the last 48 hours and even 36 hours.
“We are making them and we will be back. I understand that. If anybody knows how important it is for us to come out and be prepared and play it’s me, because I felt like we worked extremely hard to get to that first game. In every situation and put those guys in every situation that they were going to be in at games and we saw exactly what we were going see and we failed. But we failed one day, and now we have a whole season in front of us.”