ECU held its first preseason camp scrimmage on Saturday on Bagwell Field inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Special teams action and situational drills included, the Pirates got in about 130 plays in just less than two hours in hot and steamy conditions. Brief cloud cover provided only intermittent relief as the players and the coaching staff got a chance to evaluate themselves in game-like situations.
Head coach Scottie Montgomery saw a few things that need work, but overall, he left the field in a very upbeat mode.
“We’re really pretty prepared right now to play,” he said. “We’re in a really good spot. We’re further ahead than we’ve been in the past.”
Each side took turns asserting itself. The more attacking defense under coordinator David Blackwell was especially tough against the run, giving up 102 yards on 50 rushes, although the quarterbacks were protected by quick whistles to keep them from possible injury.
The first half of the scrimmage lasted more than 80 plays and featured some situational work before a move to traditional action. The offense was held in check for the most part, though each quarterback — Reid HerringHolton Ahlers and Kingsley Ifedi — did have their moments. The only two touchdowns of the half came on a 16-yard pass from Herring to Terrell Green and a 58-yard throw from Ifedi to Juwan Moody.
“We’re really, really fast up front,” Montgomery said. “We knew that coming into the game. We applied some great pressure at the defensive end and interior defensive line positions.”
The defensive line was able to put steady pressure on the quarterbacks, though eventually they adjusted and enabled to offense to be the dominant team in the second half. Several times they were able to move the ball in big chunks by finding receivers downfield.
In the second half, Trevon Brown scored on a 12-yard pass from Herring, Deondre Farrier scored on a 55-yarder from Herring and Darius Pinnix had a 2-yard touchdown run. Pinnix’s score was set up by a couple of long completions from Ifedi to Mydreon Vines and Farrier.
“If we get some one-on-ones on the outside, if the defense is going to play us that way with our receivers and our quarterbacks, we’re going to take shots,” offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said. “You’re not just going to move the ball downfield all day long in college football, so you have to take some shots and we have those kinds of guys. We have a quarterback who can really place the ball and make good decisions.”
“I thought the first half of the scrimmage was as dominating a performance defensively as we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Blackwell said. “I thought the second half of the scrimmage the offense made some plays. We have to be able to get off the field on third down. The offense was able to convert a couple of third-and-long situations, and defensively we have to be able to get off the field. We’ll go back and look at the film and grow from there.”
Herring appeared to grow more comfortable as the scrimmage wore on, finishing 16-for-26 for 265 yards with three scores. Ahlers was 8-for-19 for 104 yards, and Ifedi was 9-for-16 for 229 yards and a touchdown.
Each quarterback did well on the move while scrambling after being flushed out of the pocket. They then were able to make positive yardage.
“We’re really good at quarterback,” Montgomery said. “Usually when the defense makes a mistake or there’s a breakdown on defense, in the last few years we haven’t taken advantage of it. Those guys did a good job today.”
It was a welcome sight and a welcome change for Petersen.
“It’s just mind-blowing,” he said. “I’ve been here two years and we haven’t had a scramble drill in practice yet that I didn’t have to specifically set up. They happen all the time now because all three quarterbacks have mobility. They make a good quick decision, boom, I’m out of the pocket, we’re finding people downfield. Now the receivers know that they’re going to be on the move throwing downfield. They’re fighting to get open to their spots. It’s totally changed our offense just having mobile quarterbacks.”
The quarterbacks spread it around, with 12 receivers getting catches. Brown had five for 77 yards, displaying his athleticism on the touchdown pass by making a very difficult catch in tight coverage. Green had the most yardage with 101, and Blake Proehl (3-26) and Leroy Henley (4-69) both played well after missing last year with injuries.
“We have a lot of weapons right now and we can go down the field,” Montgomery said. “The one thing that gives us the ability to go downfield more now is our mobility at quarterback. It’s very hard to get to them. When they flush the pocket now, our receivers are doing a good job of scrambling, our backs are doing a good job of protecting the edges, and then, Reid, Holton and Kingsley, they did a good job of creating after the play breaks down. In years before, if the play broke down, then the whole play would be broken. Now, with the ability of the quarterbacks getting out on the perimeter, they did a good job.”
Hussein Howe led the rushing game with 23 yards on eight carries, and Pinnix had 20 yards on seven attempts.
“The run game has to continue to get better,” Montgomery said “The one element that we didn’t have in our run game today, which is really, really good and a big part of our run game are our quarterbacks. I wasn’t going to let them be a part of the run game. I didn’t want them to get hit. When you add the running of our quarterbacks to the run game, it will grow. But you really can’t do that right now. If we get those guys beat up, we won’t be able to make it through the season.”
Linebacker Aaron Ramseur led the defense with eight tackles and one pass breakup. Nolan Johnson had six tackles, and Colby GoreNate Harvey and Warren Saba each had five.
As camp continues with practice on Sunday and an off day Monday, the Pirates are looking to fine tune some things.
“We have to find out who the players are,” Montgomery said. “We have to find out who the playmakers at every position are. We’ve done a good job of putting ones and twos out there. But the biggest thing is we have to find the right guys, off of this tape that we watch today, to play together.”
RUSHING: Hussein Howe (8-23), Darius Pinnix (7-20, 1 TD), Anthony Scott (6-19), Holton Ahlers (7-19), Trace Christian (4-17),  Cam Coleman (3-8), Tay Williams (7-6), Reid Herring (3-5), Jeff Onyegbule (1-3), Kingsley Ifedi (4-<-14>).
PASSING: Reid Herring (16-26-0, 265 yards, 3 TD), Kingsley Ifedi (9-16-1, 229 yards, 1 TD), Holton Ahlers (8-19-1, 104 yards).
RECEIVING: Terrell Green (3-101, 1 TD), Trevon Brown (5-77, 1 TD), Leroy Henley (4-69), Jonathan Johnson (3-61), Deondre Farrier (2-59, 1 TD), Juwan Moody (3-56, 1 TD), Andre Pegues (2-56), Tahj Deans (3-47), Mydreon Vines (2-28), Blake Proehl (3-26), Duce Fuller (1-13), Tay Williams (2-5).
TACKLES: Aaron Ramseur 8 (FF, PBU), Nolan Johnson 6 (TFL/0 yards), Colby Gore 5, Nate Harvey 5 (4 sacks/-15 yards, 4 TFLs/-15 yards), Warren Saba 5 (TFL/-2 yards, PBU), Bruce Bivens 4, Dorian Hardy 4 (TFL/-6 yards), Myles Berry 3, Kendall Futrell 3 (sack/-4 yards, TFL/-4 yards, QBH), Cannon Gibbs 3 (2 TFLs/-5 yards), Ray Tillman 3 (FR/0 yards), Da’Andre Beverly 2, Delvontae Harris 2 (INT/3 yards), Brandon Henderson 2 (sack/-7 yards, TFL/-7yards), Damel Hickman 2 (PBU), Marcus Holton, Jr. 2, Shaun James 2, Rowe Mellott 2, Jalen Price 2, Chance Purvis 2 (PBU), Jaren Rainey 2 (INT/0 yards), Corey Seargent 2, Xavier Smith 2, Tony Baird 1, Khalil Barrett 1, Keyshawn Canady 1, Daniel Charles 1, Tim Irvin 1 (TFL/-5 yards), Trey Love 1, D’Angelo McKinnie 1, Chandler Medeiros 1, Cole Nigro 1, Raequan Purvis 1, Gerard Stringer 1, Devon Sutton 1 (QBH), Michael Swift 1, Alex Turner 1 (QBH), Michael Witherspoon 1.
INTERCEPTIONS: 2 (Delvontae HarrisJaren Rainey)
Reid Herring – 11 first downs/3 TD
Kingsley Ifedi – 9 first downs/2 TD
Holton Ahlers – 5 first downs/0 TD
Terrell Green 16-yard pass from Reid Herring
Juwan Moody 58-yard pass from Kingsley Ifedi
Trevon Brown 12-yard pass from Reid Herring
Deondre Farrier 55-yard pass from Reid Herring
Darius Pinnix 2-yard run