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WVU’s Holgs ‘discards’ ECU’s season-opening loss

Created on:   Sat, Sep 9, 2017   12:40 AM

Last modified:   Sat, Sep 9, 2017   12:40 AM

The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN — WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen warns not to look too closely to East Carolina’s season-opening loss to James Madison.

“Losing to James Madison, I discard that,” he said. “James Madison could beat about anybody in the country right now. They won the (FCS) national championship last year and haven’t lost in a long time.

“Everybody says you have a team that lost to an FCS school, they must not be very good or whatever it is. I’m going to go ahead and tell you James Madison could play with anybody.”

ECU opened its season at home with JMU and lost by 20 points, 34-14, in Greenville, N.C. The numbers aren’t pretty at all for the Pirates. They were beat up and down the field in almost every facet, but Holgorsen has been coaching long enough to know what to say about an upcoming opponent. No coach will say the next opponent is bad, but CBS Sports did it for him. CBS’s Tom Fornelli had ECU 128th out of 128 FBS teams in his latest rankings.

Holgorsen referenced 2008 for why no one should underestimate ECU, especially a Power-5 school. During the beginning of that season, the Pirates knocked off No. 17 Virginia Tech, in Charlotte, N.C., to start, then beat No. 8 WVU, in Greenville, the following week.

The Mountaineers did get the upper hand against the Pirates the next year, in 2009, the last two seasons they played each other. Coincidentally, those were also the last meetings Holgorsen had with ECU as the offensive coordinator at former Conference USA rival Houston.

“They have guys, they always have,” Holgorsen said. “My experience with ECU is back when Skip Holtz was there when I was at Houston. We had some wars back in 2008 and 2009.”

Holgorsen and the Cougars went 1-1 in those two meetings, but at this point, it is ancient history.

JMU rushed for 422 yards against ECU, and the Mountaineers are widely considered to have one of the best backfields in the Big 12. Pirates head coach Scottie Montgomery knows about Justin Crawford.

“Crawford is probably one of the most elusive and strongest backs we have seen over the last couple of years,” Montgomery said. “He is a really, really good football player.”

Crawford finished with 106 yards on 13 carries against the Hokies.

WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital knows what JMU was able to do against ECU’s defense in the running game and he expects that to be fixed for the Sept. 9 game.

“[JMU] is a great opponent that [ECU] played in the first week,” he said. “You look at it in that game, ECU has a little different mentality than what they were last year. You can tell that they are doing things a little differently on the perimeter. Their front is still schematically about the same. James Madison hit some big plays where guys got out of their fits, which I would expect to be corrected this week from East Carolina coming in.”

Spavital warns that his players can’t look at what another team was able to do against a current opponent, but to just worry about themselves and making sure they follow their own responsibilities and the big plays can come.

As good as JMU’s running game was vs. ECU, the Pirates’ was just as bad. They struggled to gain any momentum on the ground, and that forced their quarterbacks to air it out more than the coaching staff would like. ECU finished with 80 yards on the ground.

Duke transfer Thomas Sirk replaced Gardner Minshew at quarterback during the game, and Montgomery named Sirk the starter against WVU.

“I thought that he gave our team a big boost when he got up off the ground and could have laid down,” Montgomery said. “Right then, I thought that was the spirit of the leader. That moment, when he got up off the ground, it changed everything for me, just because I saw a guy that, no matter what the situation, he was going to get up and compete for us.”

Kickoff is set for noon Sept. 9, at Milan Puskar Stadium.