East Carolina University rolled into its matchup with Temple University riding excitement with the Pirates much improved so far in 2018. That excitement didn’t last long, as the 2017 Pirates showed up in a 49-6 beat down.
Temple had dominated ECU in recent history, but the Pirates almost upset South Florida two weeks prior. So while Temple was favored to win against the Pirates, no one expected ECU to lose by 43.
Count ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery as one of those people surprised by ECU’s performance.
”Absolutely I’m surprised,” Montgomery said. “We practiced really, really hard last week. We did things the right way and we’re growing as a football program. And when you come on the road and you do things the right way, people are attentive and ready to play, it’s very surprising when you go out and don’t play well. We expected to play extremely well today and we didn’t.”
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for ECU right from the jump. ECU trailed Temple 14-0 after one quarter and 35-3 at halftime.
ECU came into the game tied with Wisconsin for 17th in total defense, but played more like the defense that finished 129th in that category a year ago.
Temple QB Anthony Russo entered the game with a 46.8 completion percentage, one touchdown and five picks. He connected on 16-of-20 (80 percent) of his passes for three touchdowns in the first half.
Russo would finish 21-for-25 for 254 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception. Temple would rack up 173 rushing yards led by Ryquell Armstead. Armstead, who has 100 yards rushing in four consecutive games going in, finished with 91 yards and a touchdown run on 20 carries. Just for good measure, Temple got a touchdown run from its 330-pound defensive tackle in the fourth quarter.
“They out-coached us and they outplayed us in this football game,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got to make sure we understand the importance of every single snap,” Montgomery said.
Offensively, the Pirates could get nothing going and would only manage 196 yards of total offense. The last time ECU had less than 200 yards of offense in a game was 2011 vs. Virginia Tech, when it had 112.
The only points ECU would manage was field goals by Jake Verity in the second and fourth quarters. Verity moves to 10-for-10 on the season on field goals. The last time ECU failed to score a touchdown in a game was in 2012 against UNC.
Quarterback Reid Herring would finish just 17-for-31 for 112 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. Herring would be benched for backup Kingsley Ifedi in the second half, and Ifedi would go just 1-for-4. Montgomery said ECU is not considering changing starters at this time.
The running game would produce just 76 yards rushing, mostly thanks to a 53-yard run from third-string quarterback Holton Ahlers.
ECU also allowed three sacks and pressure all afternoon. ECU’s inability to protect the quarterback contributed to it getting down multiple touchdowns early. Once it was down big, ECU had to abandon the running game, which Montgomery called a recipe for disaster.
The one area Temple was expected to dominate, it did. A 59-yard punt return for a touchdown by Isaiah Wright continued the Owls trend of scoring a non-offensive touchdown in every game this season.
“It was very disappointing from the start to the finish,” Montgomery said. “Defensively, offensively, special teams, we didn’t come to play today.”
It was not only surprising for Montgomery but for the players as well, who all agreed ECU came prepared. The players and Montgomery said ECU had a great week of practice and was confident to play Temple.
”I don’t know (what happened) because we work our tail off every day. Just didn’t come together like we needed it to,” said ECU defensive back Corey Seargent.
The combined score of the last three Temple-ECU games is 121-26. This win continues Temple’s dominance over ECU. The Pirates haven’t won against Temple since 1995, and haven’t won in Philadelphia since 1988.
ECU only has three conference wins since Montgomery took over before 2016. It’s a mellowing truth for the Pirates who were convinced they were turning the corner. It doesn’t get any easier from here, playing Houston, No. 12 UCF and Memphis in consecutive weeks at home.
“At the end of the day, beating UNC doesn’t matter if you lose all your conference games. I think people were riding high on wins that don’t really matter. These games are what matter and they are what get you to a bowl,” said ECU offensive lineman and team captain Garrett McGhin.
McGhin said the players have to accept their mistakes and put it past them in practice, saying “it’s only a mistake if you don’t learn from it.”
Despite the confidence going into this game resulting in a blowout loss, there was no lack of confidence moving forward.
“We’ll go back to work,” Montgomery said. “We have a resilient bunch. There will be a lot of growth between now and next Saturday.”