#84 East Carolina Football 2016 Preview

East Carolina Pirates
Overall Rank: #84
#7 American


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East Carolina had a pretty short leash on former Coach Ruffin McNeill. From 2012 to 2014, this was a pretty good team, but the 2015 campaign saw the Pirates miss out on a bowl game and ECU opted to go in another direction. That direction will be led by Scottie Montgomery, who spent the last two years as Duke’s associate head coach. It was a rough firing to many pundits, but this is a program that wants to compete for AAC titles and they hope that can happen under Coach Montgomery. Time will tell, but for now just showing signs that this team can compete for titles down the road is the best ECU can hope for.
2015 Record: 5-7, 3-5
2015 Bowl: None
Coach: Scottie Montgomery (0-0 at East Carolina, 0-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Tony Petersen
Defensive Coordinator: Kenwick Thompson
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: James Summers, RB, 542 yards
Passing: James Summers, RB, 683 yards
Receiving: Zay Jones, WR, 1,099 yards
Tackles: Jordan Williams, LB, 81
Sacks: Yiannis Bowden, LB, 3.5
Interceptions: DeShawn Benton, DB, 2
Other Key Returnees: RB Anthony Scott, WR Trevon Brown, WR Davon Grayson, OL J.T. Boyd, S Travon Simmons
Key Losses: RB Chris Hairston, QB Blake Kemp, TE Bryce Williams, OL Ike Harris, LB Zeek Bigger, LB Montese Overton, CB Josh Hawkins
The defense was solid last season and they return enough talent to take a significant step forward in 2016. But getting more pressure on the quarterback will be key. Tackle Demetri McGill recorded 38 tackles last year, including 5.5 tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks. However, most of the passing rush will come from end Fred Presley and linebacker Yiannis Bowden. Bowden is just a sophomore and he is coming off of a very promising freshman campaign in which he tallied 3.5 sacks and six quarterback hurries. The new staff will want to find a way to get him even more involved. But the star of the linebacker corps is junior Jordan Williams, who had 81 tackles in 2015. Joe Allely and is a proven linebacker too and the expectations are high for sophomore Joe Carter, so this is a group with plenty of potential as long as Bowden, or somebody else, can emerge as a playmaker. The secondary is an experienced unit as well. DeShawn Benton and Travon Simmons are proven safeties and cornerback DaShaun Amos is a talented senior who should emerge as the leader of the secondary. With last year’s disappointment and the experience that Coach Montgomery has to work with, this group could see a pretty big turnaround if all goes right.
The old run and gun offense is gone and Coach Montgomery will install a more pro-style type of offense. However, without a proven quarterback, any type of offense could sputter. Kurt Benkert was supposed to be the starter last year, but an injury put an end to that. Blake Kemp stepped in and had an up and down season. Those two have since transferred and James Summers was moved to running back late last season. That leaves former Minnesota and Rutgers quarterback Philip Nelson and freshman John Jacobs. Nelson is basically the quarterback by default, but he has not been known for being much of a passer. Nelson can make plays with his feet though and that will add another dynamic to the offense, but it will not mean much if the passing game is non-existent. Nelson does have some good receivers to work with though. Senior Zay Jones caught 98 passes for 1,099 yards and five touchdowns last year, while Trevon Brown added 41 catches for 496 yards and four scores and Davon Grayson had 33 catches for 448 yards. The numbers will not be as gaudy this year, but the passing game could be solid if Nelson can get the ball to his talented receivers. Nelson will need some time to find those receivers though and that is another area of concern with the offensive line having to do a lot of rebuilding.
The Bottom Line:
The line, of course, will also play a big role in the success of the ground game. ECU boasts a dynamic thunder and lightning duo in the backfield with Anthony Scott and Summers. Scott only had 49 carries as a sophomore, but averaged a healthy 4.2 yards per carry. Summers is the more dynamic back and rushed for 446 yards and eight touchdowns on 96 carries. Expect the Pirates to get the ball in Summers’ hands in a variety of ways this year. If the offense can find some success in the passing game, East Carolina should get back to a bowl game and start building towards that consistent success that the program is looking for under the direction of Coach Montgomery.
Projected Bowl: Bahamas Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 133.3 (106th in nation, 9th in conference)
Passing Offense: 281.3 (27, 4)
Total Offense: 414.6 (55, 7)
Scoring Offense: 27.4 (76, 9)
Rushing Defense: 174.5 (69, 7)
Pass Defense: 226.4 (67, 5)
Total Defense: 400.9 (66, 6)
Scoring Defense: 26.0 (54, 6)
Turnover Margin: -0.25 (89, 9)
Sacks: 2.08 (65, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 2.42 (86, 9)