Yeah, I was surprised that we can’t put points on the board. That’s our job. – Wide receiver Micah Simon
East Carolina 33, BYU 17
GREENVILLE, North Carolina — One of the many explanations for BYU’s historic futility this season was officially debunked Saturday night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Before a crowd of 38,835, lowly East Carolina defeated the lowlier Cougars, 33-17.
No, BYU’s colossal struggles can’t be blamed on the level of competition.
In a season filled with humiliating setbacks, this one may have been the most humiliating. In fact, this was one of the program’s most humiliating losses in decades.
That's because this beating was not administered by a Power 5 team or even a decent FBS opponent. It came at the hands of a program that had, entering the week, won only one game this season, like BYU.
It happened against a defense that was giving up 50 points and 600 yards per game — before the Cougars came to town.
“Yeah, I was surprised that we can’t put points on the board. That’s our job,” said wide receiver Micah Simon. “Our defense does a great job of holding teams to field goals or getting turnovers and getting us the ball. It’s our job to capitalize on those opportunities, those extra possessions that they give us. It’s frustrating.”
So the Cougars (1-7) left Greenville the same way they entered it — as a one-win team. BYU lost its seventh consecutive game, extending its longest losing streak in half a century.
The Cougars are guaranteed to have their first losing regular season since 2004. They were looking to snap their losing streak and turn their season around. Instead, things continued to spiral downward.
BYU did gain a season-high 421 yards of total offense and passed for more than 300 yards for the first time since recording 441 yards against Southern Utah last season.
But that is of little consolation.
“I’m not really worried about yards. I want points,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “We need more production on the scoreboard. That’s how you win games. It’s not about how many yards you get. It’s about finishing drives in the end zone.”
How can this offense get into the end zone more frequently?
“That’s the million dollar question right now,” Sitake said. “It’s my job to figure it out."
Defensively, BYU had its issues as well. The Cougars gave up 413 yards of offense and wide receiver Davon Grayson caught 10 passes for 164 yards.
“Looking up at the scoreboard, it’s 33 points up there. It’s not acceptable,” said safety Zayne Anderson. “That’s too many.”
ECU place-kicker Jake Verity tied a school record with four field goals in a single game. But he almost missed two of them. One attempt hit the upright and caromed in while another was tipped by Corbin Kaufusi and sneaked over the crossbar.
Meanwhile, BYU’s Rhett Almond missed a 41-yarder late in the third quarter.
Trailing 26-10 with 9:14 left in the game, BYU drove to the ECU 4-yard line. On fourth down, a screen pass was knocked down, squelching another scoring opportunity.
“We didn’t get the look we thought we were going to get,” Simon said. “They did a great job disguising on that play. The ball got batted down. It was a tough look for that play.”
ECU (2-6) scored on a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter with its backup quarterback, Gardner Minshew, when starter Thomas Sirk went down with an arm injury, which made it 33-10.
The Cougars scored with 3:48 remaining on a 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tanner Mangum to tight end Matt Bushman to make the final score a little more respectable.
BYU was forced to punt on its opening drive but the defense gave the ball right back to the offense when Zayne Anderson forced a fumble that was recovered by Adam Pulsipher.
“Our coaches always talk about punching the ball out,” Anderson said. “The dude caught it and I punched it out. We need more of those.”
The Cougars took over at the Pirate 28-yard line and five plays later, Mangum connected with Simon on a 12-yard touchdown pass — Simon’s first career TD — to take a 7-0 lead.
ECU responded with a 10-play, 72-yard drive that ended with Sirk scoring on a 1-yard TD run to tie the game.
Jonny Linehan booted punts of 54 yards and 59 yards, respectively, in the first half, pinning the Pirates deep in their own territory, at their own 1-yard line and their own 2-yard line. On the latter, ECU marched into BYU territory and kicked a 42-yard field goal to go up 10-7.
On the Cougars’ final possession before intermission, they turned in their best drive of the half, reaching the Pirate 2-yard line but couldn’t punch it into the end zone. BYU’s Almond kicked a 22-yard field goal to tie the score at the break, 10-10.
It seemed like a fitting halftime score for a pair of 1-6 teams.
BYU hosts San Jose State next Saturday.