ECU will need to stay disciplined and contain Navy’s potent triple option as they try to win their third straight game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Saturday.
The Midshipmen may be the toughest competition the Pirates face for the remainder of the season, being that they are 4-3 and have played a couple of college football powerhouses, Notre Dame and Penn State. Similar to past seasons, Navy runs the triple option and again finds itself near the top in the nation in rushing. Ken Niumatalolo is currently in his fifth full season as the Midshipmen’s head coach and has played a huge role in making the Naval Academy’s football program relevant.
As opposed to what we’re used to seeing with Navy, they do have a quarterback who can actually throw the ball efficiently. Freshman Keenan Reynolds has gone 24-37 passing for 362 yards with four touchdowns, and no interceptions this season. As for the running game, the Pirates primary concern will be senior running back Gee Gee Greene, who leads the team in rushing and brings experience to the Navy backfield, and sophomore full-back Noah Copeland, who is right behind Greene for the team’s rushing lead.
ECU enters the game with momentum after scoring over forty points in each of its last two games against Memphis and UAB. Quarterback Shane Carden has thrown for 694 yards in those two games combined, along with 7 touchdown passes and no interceptions. Running back Vintavious Cooper rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns last week in Birmingham and also notched a 30 yard receiving touchdown as well. Not to be forgotten, Justin Hardy had six catches, 137 receiving yards, and a spectacular go-ahead touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
Navy leads the all-time series 2-1, with the Pirates lone victory coming in a 38-35 barn-burner last October in Annapolis.
The Pirates will be without the services of linebacker Montese Overton and center Taylor Hudson while nose-tackle Terry Williams and running back Reggie Bullock are questionable.
Expect weather to be a factor Saturday with Hurricane Sandy being in the area. If it becomes a downpour, Navy may have an advantage with the way they can run the ball.
Keys to the game
1. Discipline - Anytime a team faces the triple option, it forces them to execute and play assignment-responsible football. Navy thrives off of mistakes by the opposition. Missed tackles and mental lapses on the defensive side on the ball cannot happen if ECU plans to leave Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with a win.
2. Be wary of the pass - Staying on the defensive side, ECU needs to stay ready when Navy drops back the pass. More than likely, there will be times Navy runs the ball on five to six consecutive plays but when Reynolds does pass, he can beat this porous Pirates secondary for big plays.
3. Converting on third down- Navy’s form of offense can take a toll on defenses, so it will be important for the Pirates offense to keep the defense off the field by continuing drives and converting on third downs.
ECU is playing with a lot of confidence right now and they haven’t lost a game in front of their home crowd at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this season. I think they find a way to win to become bowl-eligible.
Prediction: East Carolina-34, Navy-24.