Anybody who has been following the Pirates closely this season should not be surprised with the ugly 20-10 loss they suffered in Philadelphia Saturday. It was purely an example of their self-inflicted mistakes finally catching up with them, coupled with a perfect storm of other outside factors. For the third week in a row, East Carolina committed at least 10 penalties for over 100 yards to rank them 122nd out of 125 FBS teams in fewest penalties per game (9.25). Only this time, it was not lined up against an opponent with a losing record, rather a Temple team with its sights set on competing for an American Athletic Conference championship or at worst qualifying for a bowl game. When trying to dissect the Pirates’ reoccurring penalty problems, you will find there is not one answer in determining the root of them. One narrative is that it’s a direct cause of the new eight-man officiating crew that several conferences, including the American, have experimented with this season. Eight-referee crews have worked three of ECU’s conference games and its Sep. 6 matchup at South Carolina. In those games, however, the Pirates averaged just 8.3 penalties for 84.5 yards, which is significantly lower than the 10.5 flags for 104.3 yards they committed in games with seven officials. Another theory is that the spike in penalties is just a product of ECU replacing three starters on the offensive line and two in the secondary. Against the Owls, seven of the 12 infractions were either called against the offensive line or a defensive back. But, once again, there are not many struggling offensive lines that would allow their team to rush for 215 yards and gain 30 first downs in a game. The Pirates are still tied for third nationally in total offense — averaging 550.0 yards per game — and 24th in total defense. There is no doubt that the adjustment to a new set of officials and starters at key positions played a role in the Pirates’ penalty issues, but it is still incomprehensible that a team which finished tied for 10th nationally in fewest penalties last season (4.2 per game) now sits in the cellar in that department. “We’ve got to correct it,” senior quarterback Shane Carden said. “It’s been getting us and we’ve been able to get over it the last couple of weeks with the penalties. We just weren’t able to do that today and we can’t have any more penalties like that.” Unlike the penalties, it is a lot easier to identify the reasons for ECU’s five forced fumbles against the Owls. The obvious explanation was the miserable weather conditions — cold, wet, windy — at Lincoln-Financial Field. This was the first game this season the Pirates had played in the rain and it showed. Prior to Saturday, ECU had lost just three fumbles. “I can’t remember ever playing a game in the rain (this year), but you have to adjust” ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said. “I thought it bothered us and it showed by the fumbles.” Temple entered the game having already turned over opponents 19 times and after five fumble recoveries against ECU, the Owls are tied for sixth in college football in takeaways. “When you got into a pile, they were all ripping at the ball, trying to get out of us every play,” said junior running back Chris Hairston, who had a career-best 154 rushing yards on 21 carries. After a short layoff, the Pirates will return to practice Wednesday in hopes of correcting these problems for the home stretch of the season. After ECU plays a difficult road game at Cincinnati next Thursday night, it will close its season playing three games in 13 days.
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