Scottie Montgomery discusses Sunday's conference opener with UConn

Published: Sep. 18, 2017 at 7:20 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. – Second-year ECU Head Football Coach Scottie Montgomery addressed members of the media on Monday prior to Sunday’s road game at Connecticut. The following are selected comments:

Opening Statement:

“I was excited the way we started the Virginia Tech game. Unfortunately, we didn’t come out of the locker room with the people and the energy that we left out on the field in the first half. There were some superlatives; on offense Trevon Brown and Brandon Smith both competed at high level. Defensively, we got great play from Kiante Anderson and Bobby Fulp. Credit goes to Virginia Tech, I thought their interior linemen were the reason we hit a stop sign in both the run game and the passing game. They were extremely talented, No. 4 (Tim Settle) and No. 8 (Ricky Walker) after looking at the tape they dominated us on the inside a little bit. We’ll get better with our center and guards.

“I saw some things on tape that gave me a little bit of energy as you can see this morning that will help us get better. Defensively, we got a lot more people to the ball carrier. Unfortunately, we still gave up some plays. Last week we weren’t in the picture of the plays we gave up and this week we were in the picture of the plays we gave up and they won some of the one-on-one battles. I thought that defensively and our defensive line, the one thing that helped us in the game was that we played a lot of bodies. We are going to have to do that in our secondary as well. Not that we are going to bench anybody, I just think that the way Marcus Holton, Jr. performed, the way that he was in the game, and then also getting Colby Gore back to the mix will give us a little bit more of an aggressive mentality out on the perimeter. That will definitely help us going forward. We’ve got to be a lot better on offense and defense and I think that our people will respond to that.

“I thought special teams outside of the blocked kick we had a few punts that didn’t go the way that they were but our special teams’ unit was nothing like it was last year when we went up to Blacksburg to play. There were some things I saw that were positive, so I chose to come in and talk about the some of the superlatives for the game.”

On Connecticut:

“We’re looking at a good football team coming off of a tough loss to the University of Virginia, so I understand that they will be chomping at the bit to get going against us. We are really excited to start conference play. I couldn’t be more excited. The things that we have been through to get us to this point, I think really will show to be great preparation tools moving forward. Being able to go against West Virginia, their defense has really given us the ability to see some of the things that UConn can do to us this week. They are going to have a similar 3-3 stack. I think coach (Billy) Crocker has done just a good job. Last year he was one of the best defensive coordinators in the entire country. He’s bringing in his scheme to UConn and their body types fit well. In the back end I think that Tre Bell (No. 1) their corner, presses as much as anyone I have ever seen on tape. That means they are very, very aggressive in their secondary. Also No. 21 (Jamar Summers) the opposite corner, they are going to come down and press us. They are not going to give us a whole lot of space and when they do give us space it’s going to be four to five to six yards. Some people have created some big plays on them but I like the aggressive mentality that they have. On the back end, No. 25 Tyler Cole, he’s a ball hog he gets to the ball and can catch it. He did a great job in the game last week where he got the pick. He read the quarterbacks eyes and moved over and got a pick. And their line backing core, the best player that they have, is Vontae Diggs. Vontae is a guy that can go sideline to sideline but can also come in and attack the football.

“On offense, the quarterback is the guy that leads this football team. Bryant Shirreffs is a good football player. I think their running back duo No. 22 (Arkeel Newsome) and No. 11 (Nate Hopkins) are kind of big and powerful. And then quick and fast is their third-leading carrier, the quarterback, so that lets you know what they want to do with the football. They had some graduation at the receiver last year and they graduated a great player at receiver but have now had some guys step in after having playing a lot. Hergy Mayala has stepped in and made some plays for them. I think they are extremely talented at tight end and they are young at offensive line, but they are anchored by a center that has played and played well.

“So all in all we are going against a good football team. We are really excited and anxious to get to conference play. We know that all of our goals that we set forth at the beginning of the year had nothing to do with the first three games of the year; they had everything to do with the conference play. We think that all of our goals are still attainable and we can achieve them. We had a great day of practice yesterday and the guys were fired up. It really hurt that we lost the football game but we have turned the page.”

On Making Adjustments To Virginia Tech’s Adjustments After The First Quarter:

“Well I think that if you look at the first quarter and you look at it in detail, they didn’t do a whole lot of adjusting. Not in their front, not in their coverage, not in anything. He ran the same things he ran the first quarter in the second quarter, third quarter and fourth quarter. Their defensive backs made some more plays on the ball. I told our guys early in the game it was going to come down to 50/50 balls and they made more plays on the ball. Their interior in the first quarter, if you go back and look at it, we didn’t run the ball effectively any time in the game. What it came down to is everybody in the stands and everybody with the naked eye looked at a couple of spectacular catches and spectacular plays that moved the ball. We had one scheme play on them where we were able to get the tight end down the middle of the field which we knew was going to be, for anybody that you play, you’re going to have one good opportunity to call that play. But outside of that, those were just exceptional plays by the receivers and the interior dominated it.

“On defense, I think the one thing that you know, there was really no adjustment offensively. But I was surprised that the quarterback (Josh) Jackson had enough poise to simply take those little small gimmies and throw the ball from the backside hands of the field on out routs as a redshirt freshman. That is something that you just don’t see, you don’t get that a lot. I also think that playing a little bit more people and being a little more aggressive mentality on the backside it what we need. We are going to have to roll the dice a little bit back there if a guy can throw it the way he was throwing the ball. We are going to have to come down and press the backside. I don’t think there was a lot of adjustment by Virginia Tech I just thought they came out and continued to do their system and I felt that once he got a lot of his playmakers in one-on-one situations that they could make some plays over us. I thought that some of our guys, Marcus Holton Jr. and Corey Seargent came down aggressively a couple of times and made some plays on them. What they were trying to do at the end was just trying to get their guys in some competitive one-on-one situations. The one play with the pop pass down the middle of the field it was a late run-pass option. The reason I was upset was that the rule is a lineman can’t be three yards down the field. Once they hit the three-yard mark, that’s going to cause linebackers to trigger and when those linebackers trigger, everybody’s going to get behind them. So what I thought that whole deal was the timing of everything. I thought in the game and after I watched the game that they did have a lineman at three yards. Where if you get that lineman at three yards and you are still holding the ball, that’s considered a run for the linebacker and they slipped him down the middle. You take away a couple of those big plays like that in a game where we coached them on a three-yard mark so it was very hurtful. But I don’t think there was much adjusting going on. I thought they did some of the same things in the first, second, third and the fourth quarter.”

On Thomas Sirk Being Named Sunday’s Starter:

“I thought there was a few times that we could have been a lot more accurate with the football. I thought that we could have stepped up in the pocket and he (Gardner Minshew) started the game on fire. He was so accurate and I thought as the game went on there was a couple of times at the line of scrimmage we got some play calls that I didn’t necessary like after the play call went in another way. And he has the ability to do some of that. There were a couple of times where things changed that I didn’t necessarily like. I thought he competed at a much higher level, he was relaxed and I thought he came out ready to play the game. I just think that Thomas will help us in the run game. The most critical thing in this game and last week that you saw the difference in is that they weren’t accounting for the quarterback in the run game. They had everybody in the box and they still were so talented at corner and at safety. They did have draft picks back there but because they were so talented, they were throwing that extra guy in the box and not worrying about the ball coming out on the perimeter with the quarterback. It just made everything tight and everyone thought what was going on with the offensive front. The extra person added into the box, Coach (Bud) Foster knew it, was a lot of force to handle without a quarterback that can’t run. Whereas if you go back and look at how he played us a couple of years ago, a quarterback that can run he played us totally different. He kept that guy out of the box and now it opened up some holes on the inside. So losing the run game ability of Thomas hurt us a little bit in the game.”

On Tim Irvin’s Status For Connecticut:

He along with Garrett McGhin, thankfully, are the only two people that we have concerns about coming out of the game. Last year at this time we were coming out of the South Carolina game after the Virginia Tech game and we had a whole lot of concerns on the offensive line, on the defensive line and at the skill position. But the way that the team has been built, we are in a little bit better shape than we were last year at this time. Tim, he didn’t practice last night. We are hopeful that he will be able to play in the game and that seven days of preparation is definitely going to be helpful. We’d like the way that we are starting conference playing on Sunday giving him an extra day. He’s pretty positive that he’s going to play. Garrett McGhin got stepped on by one of their defensive linemen. Yesterday he came back in and it’s still a little bruised but he feels confident that he will be able to practice on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week. Those are the two concerns, medically. Ray Tillman was supposed to be available for the game. Saturday morning, he came in and his body felt awful, he had practiced all last week, and that is why he did not participate in the football game. Those, outside of the guys that are listed as out, are the guys that we have a concern with trying to move forward and getting this team into conference play.”

Thoughts On Moving Garrett McGhin And D’Ante Smith Around On The Line:

Experience. With Messiah (Rice) going out at left tackle, we need a little bit more experience at that position. We think that D’Ante is extremely talented. We think that putting someone on both sides of him will give him the ability to use his best asset, that’s his power in his pad level. But we also are trying to find the best five on the field. We haven’t been able to look at a lot of Messiah knowing that he would be out for the first couple of games, but now he is back and he has earned his way back. We will never bring a guy back and start him his first game back because it’s a trust issue, not only with the players but with the coaches as well. So now that we have him back in the mix we are trying to get our best five out there. We thought that Brandon Smith played his best game since we’ve been here. He graded out higher than he has ever graded out and it was against one of the better teams that we have played. So if we can get Garrett to continue to push, Brandon to push and now add Messiah back outside with all his experience then we are better. D’Ante, one of our more talented guys, moving him down to the guard and let John (Spellacy) continue to grow as a natural center, we feel that we can get a lot better. Especially in the run game if we add another element to the run game, which Thomas gives us.”

On The Schedule Change:

“The one reason it is helpful is because once you lose you want to get back on the field as soon as you can. It lingers, you have to think about that loss and we have to hear things for two weeks. I think our guys are excited about going and getting a chance to play this weekend. We also know that our conference play starts a different level of competition. We are around these guys a lot more, the players know these guys more and I’m around these coaches a lot more. We know their systems, we know the personnel and we know a lot of other people. So we are really happy about getting started right here. It is a good thing for us to be able to go and play this weekend.”

On Practice Preparation For Connecticut:

“I think the biggest deal is that we are going live in practice. I think we are one of the only teams, and I’ve heard this and heard that, we are one of the only teams in college football that still go live in season. I think the transition on defense with some different things that we are doing in our individuals will continue to grow. I told somebody last week that you know it will be a couple of weeks before we see some true transition and mentality – the mindset, the thought, and I think that is going to help. We try to go good on good as much as we can because we are getting such high-level opponents the first few weeks of the season. Now we will continue to grow but this week will help us because we can slow down the process a little bit, get a little bit better and execute a lot more.”

On ECU’s Drive At The End Of The First Half:

“I wanted one shot to be able to throw it deep. I definitely did not want to punt the ball against Virginia Tech because of what they have done to us in the past. The other thing I didn’t want was ruining Gardner (Minshew). In the previous drive, he threw a pick that he would have never thrown if he wasn’t trying to go get points. So what I wanted to do there at the end of the half was to give Gardner a chance to settle down, hopefully run the ball. I was hoping we got a big run and then I didn’t want but one opportunity to throw it deep and try and extend the play by pass interference and hopefully get a field goal. But what I didn’t want to do was put him in a drop-back pass because the moment we put him in a drop-back pass, you saw, we had a hard time blocking those guys when they knew it was a passing down. I didn’t want him getting hit and then have two quarterbacks on the sideline and the only guy able to go into the second half to play, was Reid Herring. So that was what went behind that thought process.”

On The Oddity Of Playing On Sunday:

“It will probably be pretty odd for a lot of our kids, for me of course it won’t be that odd. The one thing that you do get to do when you play on a Sunday is that you get to watch everyone else play on that Saturday. It is kind of a calming affect for you and then on Sunday you get a chance to go play. I think the best thing for our players is that they will get an extra work and rest day and I think that is important for us right now.”