American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco visited East Carolina hoping to see progress in a struggling a Pirates program that new coach Mike Houston inherited. He’ll need to visit another time.
Another week of conference play showed ECU isn’t ready to measure up physically or in overall quickness with its AAC rivals.
USF routed ECU 45-20 in front of a crowd of 33,008 that was taken out of the game early on Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The Pirates were outgained in total yards, 519 to 319.
“That’s not what we expect from ourselves, and it’s not what we want to be,” Houston said. “There were too many critical errors at the wrong time that put ourselves in bad situations, and we did not take advantage of opportunities that we had. You can’t do that if you want to win a ballgame in this conference.
“When I took the job I knew things would be tough to turn it around. That doesn’t make it any easier. Our expectations are to get things fixed as fast as possible. None of us, players or coaches, accept this. We expect to be at a higher level.”
The Bulls evened their records at 4-4 overall and 2-2 in AAC East play, while ECU (3-5, 0-4 AAC East) lost its third game in a row.
The Pirates have lost all four AAC games by double digits. They’ve been outscored 155 (38.8) to 75 (18.8). The previous losses were to Navy, 42-10; Temple, 27-17; and UCF, 41-28.
That’s too much like a year ago under Scottie Montgomery when they were 1-7 in conference play while outscored 308 (38.5 per game average) to 169 (21.1) with a third consecutive overall 3-9 record. ECU has won only four AAC games dating from the 2016 season, with three over league doormat Connecticut.
USF led 35-10 at halftime by scoring 35 unanswered points between ECU scoring first on Tyler Snead’s game-opening 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Jake Verity connecting on a 24-yard field goal with 19 seconds left in the second quarter.
True freshman running back Demetrius Mauney continues to take on an increased role and project a promising future. There were few holes for him against USF’s defensive line, but he managed nine carries for 50 yards with a long of 18 despite finishing with 13 carries for 50. Mauney, a 6-foot, 194-pounder out of Forest City, had committed to Purdue until Houston was hired and flipped him. Houston’s high school coaching roots are in western Northern Carolina.
Snead, a 5-7, 167-pounder, has been an elusive water bug with the ball in his hands the past two seasons, but on the kickoff touchdown return he showed some breakaway speed over the final 50 yards.
He also led the Pirates in receptions with six catches for 69 yards. He entered the game third on the team with 16 catches for 240 yards and one score. A year ago he provided some highlights late in the season as a walk-on with 15 receptions for 236 yards and four touchdowns in four games. He was held out of the season finale at N.C. State to retain his freshman eligibility in 2019.
Houston didn’t permit any players to the postgame media interview room.
Houston was most disappointed with his team’s poor tackling and the yards USF players gained after runs and catches.
“That was obvious to everyone in the stadium,” he said.
He said he reminded some players during the game how he wasn’t happy with their tackling in practice.
“I had to climb on a couple of butts about the way they were tackling. I took one to the side and said, ‘You didn’t like me jumping on you on Wednesday about your technique; you’re hesitating.’ Now you see it’s important in practice.”
ECU is headed for the Big House. The Pirates signed a contract to visit Michigan to open the 2023 season at the Wolverines’ historic 107,601-seat stadium. The Pirates will earn a $1.8 million payday for the one-game contract.
ECU’s upcoming Power 5 opponents are South Carolina on the road in 2020 and at home in 2021; N.C. State at home in 2022 and on the road 2025; West Virginia in 2026 at home; and Wake Forest in 2027 at home and in 2028 on the road.
“Coach Houston and his staff are committed to facing high-quality non-conference opponents,” said first-year athletic director Jon Gilbert, “as we continue to rejuvenate our football program and showcase our brand across the country.
4:55: Time USF needed to erase ECU’s 7-0 lead on Tyler Snead’s game-opening, 100-yard kickoff touchdown return. The Bulls marched 75 yards in 10 plays, including a third-and-3 play that redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud ran up the middle 21 yards to the 5-yard line.
2:27: Time remaining in the first quarter when the Bulls took the lead for good at 14-7. Running back Jordan Conkrite ran 39 yards on first down from the Bulls’ 11-yard line, and backup tight end Jacob Mathis scored five plays later on a 21-yard touchdown pass.
2: AAC division leaders ECU faces in its next two games. Cincinnati, ranked No. 18, plays Nov. 2 at Dowdy-Ficklen. The Bearcats are 6-1 and 3-0 in the AAC East. SMU, ranked No. 16, hosts ECU on Nov. 9 in Dallas. The Mustangs are 8-0 and 4-0 in the AAC West.
3: USF quarterbacks who completed passes.
4: Wins ECU needs for bowl eligibility, which means running the table. The Pirates can count only one of their two wins over FCS teams, Gardner-Webb and William & Mary, toward six victories.