After dropping seven of its last eight games, East Carolina will try to earn its second win in program history against the powerful Naval Academy in its last home game of the 2016 campaign.
A game that was supposed to be nationally televised on Thursday night in the second week of October, ECU and Navy mutually agreed to postpone it until Saturday due to the effects of Hurricane Matthew in Greenville.
Coming in, this 7-2 Navy team has been ranked in the top 25 this season, with its biggest win coming against a formerly No. 6 Houston team. The win came a week after the Midshipmen suffered their first defeat at the hands of rival Air Force, 28-14. Ranked No. 22 at the time, Navy was then knocked off by South Florida, 52-45, after three weeks of appearing in the top 25.
“My coaching this week is all about possessions, it’s about protecting the possession, trying to take one away from them,” said ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery. “Just look at where [Navy is] in penalty discipline. It says a lot about the young men we are playing with Navy on their chest.”
Navy will need to show discipline and focus this week in not overlooking ECU, because a win over the Pirates will put the Midshipmen in the American Athletic Conference championship.
Besides its discipline, Navy’s physical nature will be on display through its ground and pound triple-option offense.
To put a gauge on the Navy rushing attack, which will be matched up against the No. 93 ranked ECU rush defense, the Midshipmen have eight rushers over 100 yards on the season, with four over 300 yards, two over 400 and one over 1,000 yards. The Pirates surrender 205 rushing yards per game, and all signs point to it being a long day for the Pirates.
“We got a show team we built just for this, with a lot of speed on all the skill positions and a low center of gravity on the line so that we challenge our guys,” said Montgomery.
The Navy passing attack isn’t the highly-touted part to this offense that averages 35 points per game, but it is made to catch a team that’s been lured asleep by the run.
Quarterback Will Worth, also a 1,000-yard rusher, has right under 1,200 yards passing on the season and holds a 7:3 touchdown to interception ratio. Only one Navy receiver has more than 10 catches and 200 yards. Jamir Tillman has 29 catches for 459 yards and a touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, the expected focus will be on ECU wide receiver Zay Jones as he closes in on the all time FBS receptions crown, and its record holder, former teammate Justin Hardy.
“[Navy’s] secondary is solid. They got some guys that are older and they know the system well and don’t make a lot of mistakes,” said Jones
Though Jones never seems to have a problem getting open, ECU’s 28 points per game offense has a problem opening up. In fact, the Pirates are the only top-20 offense to average below 30 points. That can be attributed to their red zone troubles and 136 yards per game rushing attack.
ECU is set to face a Navy defense that surrenders 30 points per contest and ranks 60th overall.
“We’ve got to score a lot but we’ve also got to stay on the field and get first downs,” said ECU offensive coordinator Tony Petersen.
Discipline and ball control look to be the key to this one, as Navy is the better team, but ECU has the chance to play spoiler on Senior Day and make them wait another week before earning an AAC championship bid.