As soon as Scottie Montgomery flicked on some film to prepare for ECU's looming matchup with the Hokies, one particular play jumped out at him above all the others.
Like most fans watching Tech's 49-0 dismantling of Boston College last week, he couldn't help but notice Isaiah Ford's leaping 30-yard touchdown grab in double coverage.
"You talk about plays in single matchups, he even made plays in double team matchups, like that ball on the back end line, going up and getting that ball," Montgomery said on a conference call with reporters.
Montgomery may be new to ECU, but after spending a few years as David Cutcliffe's offensive coordinator at Duke, he admits that it was hardly surprising that Ford could manage such an athletic feat. Instead, what that truly stood out to him was that QB Jerod Evans was so comfortable trusting Ford on that sort of play in just their third game together.
"Right now, Jerod Evans trusts Isaiah that he's going to go and make a play for him," Montgomery said.
But Evans quickly admitted after the game that he knows he shouldn't have been quite so trusting in that particular situation, and Fuente hasn't been shy about publicly scolding his QB for it (the outcome of the play aside). Ironically, the throw that so piqued Montgomery's interest isn't necessarily one that the head Hokie ever wanted Evans to make.
"They were in man free coverage and the safety was cheating to Isaiah like he was much of the game, so we just can't force those things," Fuente said on a conference call of his own. "As much as we want to make sure Isaiah gets involved in the game plan, there are other capable players out there as well. So it's just making sure we trust our fundamentals and understanding what we're trying to accomplish with each play is paramount to the quarterback position. That doesn't mean that all the results are always going to be negative or positive when you do go where you're supposed to go."
Indeed, Fuente admits that it's impossible to be too mad at Evans considering how expertly he placed that ball to help enable Ford's athletic grab.
But in film study this week, he's certainly emphasized that Evans can't afford to keep making that sort of decision, especially in light of his relative inconsistency when going deep (research from ESPN's David Hale shows that Evans is 4 for 12 on throws of 20 yards or more, placing him ninth in the ACC).
"Making sure we're being conscious of where we should be going with the ball is the most important teaching point," Fuente said.
In particular, he stressed that East Carolina's defense is not one that Evans should take lightly.
The Pirates aren't setting the world on fire statistically so far — they're allowing 218 yards through the air per game so far, good for 62nd nationally, and letting opposing QBs complete 57.5 percent of their passes. But ECU did manage to hold NC State a bit below their season average when it comes to passing yards (the Wolfpack are ranked 27th in the country with 287 yards per game, yet managed 282 against ECU), and Fuente warned that their defense is deceptively athletic.
"That's the first thing that jumps off the film at you, they can really run at all their spots," Fuente said. "They like to move up front, they give you a few different looks, they're not the kind of screw your cleats into the ground type of defense, they're much more of a movement-oriented, speed defense."
Though Fuente shared a conference with the Pirates back in his AAC days at Memphis, he notes that he hasn't actually played ECU since his first year with the Tigers back in 2012. Combined with the departure of Ruffin McNeill, Fuente admits that there's plenty new about the Pirates to give the Hokies reason to make tweaks to the offense.
"What other teams' strengths and weaknesses are causes you to change a little bit from week to week," Fuente said. "We're still figuring out how to adapt our personnel to those changes that need to be made on a week to week basis, who can handle those changes, who can't handle those changes, and we're still learning each other in terms of that mindset, but I'm optimistic that we're getting better and continuing to figure out those skill sets and see what guys can handle."
Though Montgomery notes that he's more accustomed to the Hokies playing exotic defensive schemes than offensive ones — after all, the 37-year-old says he's been watching Tech play "good defensive football" essentially "since I was a baby" — he's still fully prepared to see Fuente make some substantial adjustments on offense come Saturday.
"They've grown their offense," Montgomery said. "They can get into big sets, they can get into spread sets, they've got a good understanding of the quarterback run game. I think their run pass option game is great, they can also run speed option with this kid."
Tech's tougher challenge may very well come on defense instead. ECU is once again at the top of the leader boards when it comes to passing offense (currently placing seventh nationally with 370 yards per game), thanks to the excellent play of both QB Philip Nelson and WR Zay Jones.
Most notably, Jones managed an eye-popping 22 catches for 190 yards in the team's losing effort against South Carolina last week, and he certainly has Fuente's full attention.
"Obviously he's a gifted athlete, he seems to have great savvy in terms of being able to settle in zone coverage and also defeat man coverage in terms of attacking leverage and doing the little things that create separation," Fuente said. "He's obviously sure handed."
Montgomery admitted that "you never go into a game thinking a guy can come out with 22 catches," but he credits the team's creativity in moving Jones around for generating that sort of result. Since he believes that Jones has the flexibility to play just about any role in ECU's offense, Montgomery expects that he'll have to be similarly creative with Jones to poke some holes in Tech's top-ranked pass defense.
"Sometimes when you leave him three by one backside, they can do some things in coverage to kind of hurt you, so we put him with a few people a couple of times, put him on the interior, put him in a tighter alignment sometimes to help us out," Montgomery said. "He is a weapon that we can utilize at all positions. He can play all four receiver positions and play them well, he knows the details of each one of those positions. He'll be playing football for a long time."
After the Pirates so famously burned the Hokies through the air back in 2014, there's little doubt that Fuente will be acutely aware of the threat Jones and company can pose.
"It's quite a task to take those guys on," Fuente said.