East Carolina-Navy Preview
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) Navy's inaugural foray into the American Athletic Conference comes against a familiar opponent.
Navy engaged in a four-game, home-and-home series with East Carolina from 2005 through 2012. The Midshipmen won three of those meetings while putting up some gaudy numbers.
The Pirates had no answer for the triple-option in 2010 and 2012, when the Mids scored 76 and 56 points during victories in Greenville. East Carolina's only win came in 2011, a 38-35 shootout.
Navy makes its AAC debut Saturday after competing as an independent for 134 seasons.
''We're really excited about playing our first conference game,'' Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. ''We're also excited about playing a very good football team.''
Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill has great respect for Navy, which has posted winning records in 11 of the last 12 seasons. The Midshipmen are 58-35 in eight years under Niumatalolo.
''Kenny's done a great job of building a program that is strong year-in and year-out. His teams are always well-prepared,'' McNeill said. ''Navy is a disciplined team that is not going to make mistakes. It's also a very physical football team.''
Here are some things to watch for on Saturday:
PICK YOUR POISON: In the season opener two weeks ago, Colgate focused its defensive game-plan on record-setting Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds. The Raiders were intent on attacking Reynolds to get the ball out of his hands. Reynolds obliged by giving the ball to fullbacks Chris Swain, Quentin Ezell and Shawn White, who teamed for 192 yards rushing and four touchdowns. ''Kenny has found a plethora of big fullbacks that give you fits,'' McNeill said.
RUN VERSUS PASS: This is a classic case of contrasting styles as Navy (1-0) wants to run the ball and East Carolina (1-1) employs a fast-paced passing attack. ''Keenan Reynolds is a four-year starter. You can't buy that experience. He understands that offense as well as any quarterback I've seen,'' McNeill said. East Carolina has a new offensive coordinator in Dave Nichol and a first-year starting quarterback in Blake Kemp. While Kemp has completed almost 70 percent of his passes through two games, most have come on short or intermediate routes. The Pirates are averaging 290 passing yards per game.
SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE: Navy and East Carolina have engaged in some serious shootouts, totaling 268 points between them in the three meetings from 2010 to 2012. Not surprisingly, both schools have enjoyed success when scoring a lot of points. East Carolina has won 23 of the last 27 games in which it has scored at least 30 points. Similarly, Navy is 38-10 when scoring 30 points or more during the Niumatalolo era.
REINFORCEMENTS: Two Navy seniors who sat out the opener are expected to play. Cornerback Quincy Adams has finally recovered from a nagging hamstring injury and is expected to start at right cornerback. Blaze Ryder, who has been rehabilitating from offseason knee surgery, is slated to start at center. Outside linebacker Ted Colburn, who has been nursing a back injury, is also expected to make his 2014 debut.
DEFENDING THE OPTION: Brian Mitchell was in charge of the East Carolina defense that allowed Navy to average 56 points and 526 total yards in those three games from 2010 to 2012. Rick Smith took over as defensive coordinator in 2013 and figures to use a different strategy to stop the triple-option. Smith, in his 34th season as a collegiate coach, held the same post at Tulane when it faced Navy in 1998. ''Coach Smith has been in this game a long time,'' Niumatalolo said. ''He's a veteran that has seen everything. His guys are going to be fundamentally sound.''