5 things to watch: ECU in desperate need of some home cooking

Not only is Saturdays game against UConn part of the annual celebration in which alumni to return to Greenville to re-live their college days, but its also the Pirates first game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in four weeks

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
East Carolina Pirates running back Anthony Scott (3) tries to break a tackle from North Carolina State Wolfpack cornerback Jack Tocho (29) in the first quarter of the college football game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville

It’s Homecoming in more ways than one for the East Carolina football team on Saturday. Not only is its game against UConn part of the annual celebration in which alumni to return to Greenville to re-live their college days, but it’s also the Pirates’ first game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in four weeks. They haven’t played at home since losing to Central Florida on Oct. 1, an absence that came about because of Hurricane Matthew and the postponement of a scheduled home game against Navy. While the cleanup from that massive storm is still ongoing, coach Scottie Montgomery’s team is also in need of some rebuilding after five straight losses — its longest streak of futility since a forgettable 2003 season in which ECU went 1-11 under John Thompson. Here are five things to watch as the Pirates (2-5, 0-3 American Athletic Conference) look to get back on the winning track against the 3-5 (1-4) Huskies:No place like homeThe Pirates can use any advantage they can get right now and a return to their home field, surrounded by a supportive crowd, can’t help but give them at least an emotional boost. While the venue can only do so much in terms of execution, the festive Homecoming atmosphere could potentially play a major role in helping to restore some of the Pirates’ lost confidence, especially against a conference opponent that is experiencing its own misfortune with four losses in its last five games. Both of ECU’s wins this season have been at home, including an emotional 33-30 victory against NC State back on Sept. 10. Considering the remaining schedule — with games against AAC division front runners Navy and Temple, Tulsa and SMU — this could legitimately be the Pirates’ last best chance at winning a game between now and the end of the season. “This is big person football. We are competing at the highest level,” Montgomery said. “If you can’t be consistent doing that, you won’t be accountable. “The biggest thing we are working on right now is our leadership with the seniors and making sure they remain confident because some of them are grading out as high as they can. A lot of guys are confident in themselves, but we need them to be confident in each other as well.” If there’s one thing ECU has going for it, it’s history. The Pirates have won 10 straight Homecoming games dating back to 2005 and are 51-10 all-time when celebrating the occasion. Hold on to what you got ECU continues to be plagued by turnovers. It’s minus-12 margin ranks 126th out of 128 FBS teams this season. The Pirates have had particular trouble holding onto the football, with eight lost fumbles. Not only are they coughing the ball up, but they’re doing it at the worst possible times. Twice this season — against South Carolina on Sept. 17 and again last Saturday at Cincinnati, the Pirates lost a fumble inside the opponent’s 5-yard line as they were driving in for a potentially decisive touchdown. On both occasions, the player that lost the ball was Anthony Scott. The junior running back has been effective this season, averaging 5.0 yards on his 75 carries. But because of his fumble-itis, Scott was replaced as his team’s primary ballcarrier by backup quarterback James Summers. Now, after his fifth fumble of the season, it appears as though he’s run out of chances. Montgomery said Monday that he plans to use Shawn Furlow rather than Scott as Summer’s backup Saturday against UConn. “We are going to keep Anthony with us because there is some point in the season where we will need him,” Montgomery said. “However, at this point we are going to see what Shawn can do. “Physically, Shawn has been great all season. He has struggled a little bit with picking up the playbook where Anthony probably grasped it as quickly as anyone. Shawn is now to a point where he is learning more and doing more. It’s his time and his opportunity. If a guy can protect the football, that’s half the battle. I accept the responsibility of putting people in the best position to help us win and I believe Shawn can do that for us.”In no rush To say that the Pirates have struggled to generate a pass rush this season would be a little like saying that the Chicago Cubs have been struggling to win a World Series over the past 108 years. ECU has gone five straight games without a sack — its longest drought ever — and has recorded just one all season. Its task won’t get any easier Saturday against UConn’s Bryant Shirreffs, a mobile dual-threat quarterback who started his career at NC State. Shirreffs threw for