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Pirates take new direction on defense

ECU Notebook

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It took only two weeks into the season for East Carolina head coach Scottie Montgomery to re-evaluate and make a major move on his coaching staff.

After the Pirates allowed a program-record 49 points in the first half of this past Saturday’s 56-20 loss at West Virginia, Montgomery announced Sunday that Thompson had been relieved of his defensive coordinator duties and reassigned to a non-coaching position.

The move came as a bit of a surprise after only two games, but a deeper look into the situation shows a different story. Not only did ECU allow 90 points and more than 1,200 yards in its first two games of the season, but the Pirates simply weren’t competitive on the defensive side of the ball towards the latter half of last year, leading to nine losses in the final 10 games.

With Montgomery now staring at a 1-11 record in his last 12 games, and the pressure mounting, the second-year head coach decided to pull the trigger on the move that made national headlines.

“We made some traction this offseason, thought we did a good job recruiting and putting a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball,” said Montgomery, whose team will host No. 16 Virginia Tech on Saturday. “The first week, we got off to a slow start and I really challenged everybody to get better this week, in some way and some form. I didn’t think we necessarily got better. We need a little change in direction. Really thankful to have worked with Kenwick. He was a great person. The fit for us right now, we feel like, we need to go in a different direction.”

Defensive line coach Robert Prunty, who was the co-defensive coordinator at Cincinnati the last three seasons, will take over the coordinator duties. Defensive graduate assistant Damon Magazu will work directly with the safeties now, while fellow defensive assistant David Mackie will also assume a new role to help pick up the slack of Thompson’s dismissal.

Montgomery addressed the items he wants to see change on defense going forward.

“I think we need to become more simplistic in the things we are doing and help our back-end and linebackers play better together,” Montgomery said. “I didn’t think we played well together (against WVU). I thought we tried to fix some issues in the run game from the week before that stressed us too much in the secondary this week. Collectively, we need to put together a better plan to play together.”

QB SITUATION IN FLUX

After starting his first game in an ECU uniform over the weekend, Thomas Sirk’s status is in question heading into this Saturday’s game.

Sirk is currently working his way back from the concussion protocol after suffering the injury against WVU. The Duke graduate transfer was unable to practice Tuesday but worked into a limited non-contact role on Wednesday. His status will be monitored closely before he’s re-evaluated Thursday or Friday.

Montgomery said Sirk would likely start his second straight game if cleared heading into Saturday. Gardner Minshew took all the first-team reps on Tuesday and some on Wednesday as well.

“I don’t pretend to know a whole lot outside of knowing the name concussion protocol. I don’t know much more than that,” Montgomery said. “We have to make sure he’s symptom-free before he can even come out to the field. We don’t know yet. We’re preparing like he’s going to be here and Gardner knows the whole offense, so we’re also preparing like Gardner is going to be the guy. We’re trying to do a little bit of both because we truly don’t know.”

Montgomery said ECU hasn’t missed a beat with Minshew handling the majority of practice.

“He looked well, he looked like a guy that was ready for the opportunity to go in and run a full practice,” Montgomery said. “We were happy to see the way he’s practiced. The one thing you have when you have a guy with that kind of experience, is you always worry when your first quarterback is out, because your second quarterback is usually a guy that’s developing or doesn’t know the whole offense, or hadn’t paid attention. But he’s not that and it’s made practice run pretty smooth.”

SCOUTING REPORT

While ECU struggled mightily with West Virginia this past weekend, the Hokies won an epic 31-24 game over the Mountaineers to begin the season on a neutral field in Landover, Maryland.

Virginia Tech also dispatched of Delaware last week 27-0 to move to 2-0 under second-year head coach Justin Fuente and improve to No. 16 in the Associated Press national rankings.

The Hokies, who defeated ECU 54-17 last season in Blacksburg, come into Saturday’s contest with an always-tough defense led by long-time coordinator Bud Foster. Virginia Tech has already accrued six sacks in two games and have forced two interceptions and a pair of fumbles.

The offense is replacing several key pieces from last year’s group, but redshirt freshman Josh Jackson has excelled through two contests, throwing for 457 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, while also rushing for a team-high 120 yards.

Senior wide out Cam Phillips is a dangerous playmaker in the passing game. He leads the Hokies with 13 grabs for 228 yards and two scores.

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