East Carolina to clash with NavyPublished 5:32pm Friday, October 26, 2012
GREENVILLE — It was only two years ago that Navy came to Greenville and ran wild over East Carolina as it rushed for 521 yards during its 76-35 blowout of the Pirates.
My how things have changed.
The Midshipmen return to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium today for their 3:30 p.m. contest with the Pirates, and while the sites may look familiar, what they see on the field bears no resemblance to what they witnessed the last time they where here.
The inexperienced and undersized 4-3 defense that Navy abused in 2010 has grown into an attacking 3-4 unit that currently ranks 32nd in the nation against the run allowing 123.1 yards per contest. A far cry from the team that just two years ago finished last in the nation in total defense.
Though the Pirates’ 3-4 defense was in place when ECU held on to top Navy 38-35 in Annapolis last year, it is a much more advanced scheme this season with a beefier front line.
“We have a system in place that we didn’t have in (2010) and this system has evolved and been developed and we’ve added some wrinkles that we didn’t have last year,” ECU defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell said.
The Pirates (5-3) will need that unit to rise to the occasion today as they will be battling for bowl eligibility.
“I think becoming bowl eligible would be a great accomplishment for us as a team, staff and a program,” ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said. “That is not out of the conversation at all at this point.”
It will be in the conversation a lot more if the Pirates can find a way to slow down a Midshipmen (4-3) team that has found lightening in a bottle with true freshman QB Keenan Reynolds.
Reynolds (24-37, 362/ 227 rushing yards) took hold of the starting job after coming in for injured QB Trey Miller and leading the Mids to a come-from-behind 28-21 OT victory over rival Air Force. Miller started the following two games and won both times as Navy topped Central Michigan 31-13 before Reynolds rallied the team to a 31-30 victory over Indiana last week.
“He’s as good of an option quarterback as you’re going to see,” Mitchell said. “He has a great arm and pinpoint accuracy. It doesn’t matter if he is in the pocket or rolling out, he has great accuracy.”
While Reynolds is a passing threat, the Mids’ triple-option offense is predicated on the run and the key matchup today will be between ECU NT Terrell Stanly (6-1, 327) and Navy center Tanner Fleming (6-2, 270).
“It’s crucial. It’s at the point of attack,” Mitchell said. “If you can defend that center and not let him climb or get to your legs now you control a gap one way or the other and now you’re starting to dictate … And, if you can get pushback on that guy, now you’re really being disruptive.”
Slotbacks Gee Gee Greene (395) and Noah Copeland (378) are Navy’s top runners, while Brandon Turner is its leading receiver with 13 catches for 167 yards.
While Navy’s success lies in its ability to rush, patience will be the key for the Pirates. The Midshipmen run zone-heavy hybrid 3-4 defense that challenges quarterbacks to dink and dunk their way downfield.
Last year Pirates’ QB Dominique Davis did it to perfection as he completed his first 26 passes of the game to establish a new NCAAA record and finished the contest with 372 passing yards and two TDs.
Shane Carden, ECU’s sophomore first-year starting QB, must playa disciplined ball game and take what the defense gives him.
“I’m glad he got a good example of how to do it in what ‘Nique did last year,” ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “You have to be patient because they’re a patient defense. They’re going to give you some underneath things but you have to be patient. There will be some shots (down field) there but you have to be patient and know when to take them because if you get overaggressive they will make you pay.”
Navy ranks 26th in the country in pass defense, but has not had the same kind of success against the run where it allows 172 yards per game.
That is something the Pirates will look to exploit with RB Quintavious Cooper, who has been on fire lately. Cooper burned UAB last week during ECU’s 42-35 victory as he ran for 172 yards and two scores, and if he can be that kind of weapon again today the Pirates’ offense will be incredibly tough to stop.