BTP: ECU is coming off of a dominating performance against Western Carolina. Albeit against a fairly outmatched foe, what did you learn about the Pirates in that game?
PW: It might have been a combination of extremely low expectations and a vastly inferior opponent, but I came away incredibly impressed with the Pirates performance Saturday in their 52-7 win over Western Carolina. What I was most impressed with was the discipline (ECU was only hit with 3 penalties for 25 yards after averaging over 7 penalties and 70 yards per game over the last two years of the Ruffin McNeill era), conditioning (although, the starters only played three quarters and it was a relatively cool early September Saturday for Greenville), and technique. I would have to say it was one of the best overall executed games, at least from an initial perspective, that I have seen in quite some time by an ECU squad. Great debut by new ECU coach Scottie Montgomery.
BTP: What is the general feeling around the Pirates' fanbase about Scottie Montgomery? Do you feel that firing Ruffin McNeill was the right move?
PW: I'd say probably 95% of the fanbase hated the firing of McNeill, but probably the best thing to happen following that decision was that there was not an immediate next-day hire. It gave the fanbase some time to look back and evaluate both the McNeill tenure and the trajectory of the program. Given that time for analysis and reflection, I think the overall thinking of the fanbase started to shift to a view that aligned more with "okay, so maybe the tide was going out on the McNeill era and we had already seen the high-water mark." Even so, I still admit it's incredibly shitty to fire a coach who had, by all means, been successful, was well-liked, and was incredibly unlucky given the set of circumstances (losing OC Lincoln Riley to Oklahoma, graduating program all-timers QB Shane Carden and WR Justin Hardy, plus injuries at key positions *cough*QB*cough*) the prior year.
My view is that the firing was justified in that I believe a program should always be striving to be better than they currently are (unless you're Alabama, in which case... bro... just take a couple years off and chill already). It takes bold moves to make great strides and I will never fault an administration for trying to fight a stale culture, and that's exactly what the McNeill tenure was becoming. Ticket sales, attendance, and Pirate Club donations were declining, and there was a new stadium expansion project coming down the chute. It was a tough decision, and although I love McNeill and how much he bled (and still bleeds) purple and gold for the university and program, the time was right for a change.
Scottie really had to come out and have a great game in his debut to get the fanbase behind him, and... well... that he did! I'd say excitement is really high now. A win this week and there won't be a single Pirate fan looking back questioning the coaching change.
BTP: Who is one player on the Pirates' offense that should really concern Wolfpack fans? How about on the defense?
PW: I'm glad I was delayed in writing this because just a few hours ago I would have said WR Trevon Brown, who is a big physical WR who will be playing on Sundays in a couple years; however, he was declared ineligible for the entire season by the NCAA early Wednesday. Minus Brown (who the was held out of the season opener), I'd say State should be worried about RB Anthony Scott. Scott (11 carries, 120 yards, 1 TD vs WCU) is similar to NC State RB Matt Dayes in that he's a RB who has a quick burst to get to the second level and also has very good hands.(9 rec, 90 yards, 2 TDs vs WCU) out of the backfield. It's the receiving ability that should scare State the most.
Of course, State should also be worried about WR Zay Jones since he has the ability to absolutely destroy the weakspot of the NCSU defense, the secondary, especially if Anthony Scott can force the State D to honor the run game.
On defense, State fans should be concerned about SO LB Yiannis Bowden, a 6'5 221 lbs athletic freak. The dude can flat-out play. Think young Manny Lawson. I'm serious. He's still putting it together (hell, he's only a soph), but he flashes signs that tell you he's going to be great. He can get after the QB and can also hold his own in pass defense.
State fans should also be worried about SO CB Corey Seargent. He has incredible coverage and ball skills and has the ability to shut down the State WRs he's matched-up with.
BTP: Outside of Jaylen Samuels and Matt Dayes, who on the Pack's roster gives you the most concern?
Can I still say Jaylen Samuels and Matt Dayes? I feel like that should still be a viable answer.
Honestly, as an ECU fan, Ryan Finley gives me the most concern. He wasn't asked to do much and revealed very little on tape in the opener vs William & Mary. If Finley comes out and proves that he's just as capable at completing passes 20-25 yards downfield as he is at the 10-yarders, it's going to put a ton of pressure on the ECU defense to defend the whole field. ECU has a very talented secondary (although it lacks depth) that should match up well with State's receivers, but if Finley can start fitting the ball into tight windows and forcing ECU to drop more into coverage, then that's going to open up the running game more and it could spell disaster for the ECU defense.
5) Let's get a prediction on the game - who will prevail in Greenville?
Easy. Alcohol distributors and Bojangles.
Oh, you were serious... my bad. So before the season started, I thought "State by 7". Then State played last Thursday night and I thought "State by 17". Then ECU played Saturday and I thought "Push". I honestly can't pick a winner. We're going to learn a lot about both teams Saturday. If one team were heavily favored, I'd say the underdog because that's typically how this series goes. Conditioning should play a huge factor since it should be a hot and humid September day in Greenville.
I think the final will be something around 31-28, but I'm not sure who comes out on top. Both teams struggle at the PK position, so I'll say whichever team can actually make a FG will win the game (heaven help us all).
Many thanks to PirateWolf for taking the time to answer our questions!