Nearly a month ago, the East Carolina Pirates were sitting pretty with a 4-3 record and what they thought was an easy route to another bowl berth. Instead, we sit at November 16 with the Pirates now at 4-6 and needing wins over Central Florida and Cincinnati to secure six wins on the season.
What happened in the last three games that changed the entire trajectory of the season?
While you cannot tie it down to a single glaring reason for the disappointing play of East Carolina in the last month, it is clear that the downfall started in the fourth quarter versus Temple.
Leading 14-10 in a defensive struggle of a game, the Pirates had Temple on the ropes. The Owls were facing a second and 24 at their own 15-yard line and the game on the line. The defense was unable to get a stop, instead allowing P.J. Walker to complete a 51-yard pass to Robby Anderson to the ECU 34.
Five plays later, the Pirates gave up a touchdown and trailed 17-14 before falling 24-14 in the end.
Since that loss, the ECU coaching staff decided to stick with James Summers at quarterback for as long as possible. That decision backfired immensely as the ECU offense never got into a groove versus Connecticut. The inability of Summers to be a threat in both the running and passing games resulted in back to back losses.
It cannot be stated how poor of a decision to move into a single quarterback system after finding success in previous games with both Kemp and Summers getting playing time. While Kemp did get a shot at the end of the UConn game, it was with ECU being forced to pass only due to the score.
Facing a desperate need to win each of the last two games of the season, the Pirates must go back to the basics of wins over Virginia Tech, SMU, and Tulsa. What the Pirates did differently in those games than lately is pull the struggling quarterback when he needs to be pulled.
Neither of the two quarterbacks that are taking snaps for the Pirates would be considered a complete quarterback. Injured projected starter Kurt Benkert is that player, but he will not be back until the 2016 season.
Blake Kemp is a passing threat, but is not to be feared in the running game. Summers is exactly the opposite with an inability to complete passes, but has skill set that is effective in running the ball.
In each of the last three losses, the ECU defense has been more than up for the challenge. They did give up 31 points to UConn, but much of that had to do with the exhaustion of staying on the field so long.
In each of the last two losses, East Carolina has lost the time of possession by ten or more minutes. That is an eternity in the college game. The sheer number of plays ran by the ECU offense drops significantly when they lose the time of possession so badly.
The time of possession loss was punctuated by South Florida running 26 more offensive plays than the Pirates. Something like that cannot happen with the offensive philosophy of ECU. The offense has to be much more productive with its ability to stay on the field if they want the defense to continue to play well.
While the Pirates are on the ropes and close to falling, this season is not yet over. Two wins and a trip to any bowl game would be huge after this tough stretch. Even in their current condition, they should take care of Central Florida and make it to the season finale versus Cincinnati with a chance to salvage the season.