Pirates defense still looking for answers

ECU allowing 50 points, 600 yards per game

East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery named Jacksonville State's David Blackwell as his new defensive coordinator on Thursday (James Guillory / USA TODAY Sports)

Central Florida wide receiver Dredrick Snelson boasted before last week’s game against East Carolina that his team would score 70 points against the Pirates.

It wasn’t all that much of a stretch, considering that Snelson’s Knights came into to the game with the nation’s highest-scoring offense and ECU’s defense ranks last among 129 FBS schools in both scoring and yards allowed.

As much as the Pirates tried to help UCF accomplish its 70-point goal by allowing touchdowns on a punt return and an interception return, the Knights were only able to put 63 on the board in their lopsided victory in Orlando on Saturday. That, however, was small consolation for a program that has already done enough to embarrass itself this season without having an opposing player publicly call it out.

“It was a statement that he made and did I talk to our guys about it, yes,” ECU coach Scottie Montgomery said Monday in reference to Snelson’s verbal jab. “But there was no talking about it that was going to help, you just have got to go out and play.”

Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville  |  Saturday, 7 p.m.  |  CBSSN

The Pirates (1-6, 1-3 AAC) have had a hard time doing that this season.

Their defense hasn’t just been bad, it’s been historically bad.

Consider that ECU has been burned for 60 or more points three times and 56 on another occasion in its first seven games. It has allowed its opponents to average of 50 points and 600 yards, well within reach of the FBS single-season records for futility of 50.7 points per game by Louisiana-Lafayette in 1997 and 553.3 yards given up by Maryland in 1993.

To Montgomery’s credit, he hasn’t sat back and let the futility happened.

Before the season, he brought in graduate transfers Korrin Wiggins from Clemson and Gaelin Elmore from Minnesota to try and solidify his secondary and pass rush. He also switched from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-2-5 in an attempt to put the players on hand in a better position to make plays.

Once the games began, the second-year coach fired defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson and replaced him with defensive line coach Robert Prunty. Just last week, he brought in 73-year-old former Minnesota head coach John Gutekunst to serve as a “defensive analyst.”

All the tweaks in the world, however, can’t overcome the Pirates’ glaring lack of talent and speed, the latter of which was exposed in recent AAC losses to Central Florida and South Florida.

“If there was one thing that I wish I would have known a little bit sooner is that, overall, we have to recruit a faster athlete,” Montgomery said Monday. “In this last game I thought a lot of our guys played their heart out, but there were a couple of situations where we were out-ran.”

If there’s one silver lining to ECU’s current situation it’s that Saturday’s opponent, Brigham Young, is as bad at moving the football as the Pirates are from stopping it.

The Cougars (1-6) have scored only nine touchdowns all season and rank next-to-last in the FBS scoring an average of 11.4 points per game.

“We are really excited to be able to get a chance to come back and play homecoming, get a chance to get a win against a football team that is also coming in here trying to win as well,” Montgomery said. “I think this will give us a good boost of energy going into our open date and we can finish strong.”