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Navy Midshipmen vs. East Carolina Pirates Preview and Predictions 10-17-2020

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In his 25-year career at Navy as an assistant and head coach, Ken Niumatololo has been immersed in a disciplined, consistent approach with a commitment to triple-option football - in part owing to the fact that few teams around the country employ the ground-first offense.

It has worked to the point that Niumatololo earned his 100th victory at Annapolis last week in his 14th season.

This week, however, he's aware that his team's opponent -- East Carolina, with a first-year coaching staff -- will be familiar with the challenge of facing the unusual offense.

"It's not like we're going to sneak up on them or anything," Niumatalolo said of the Pirates, with coach Mike Houston. "Coach Houston is very well versed in the triple option. The things we do are not going to be anything new for him. They've got a lot of guys on their staff who have seen what we have done."

The Midshipmen have been especially solid against East Carolina during Niumatololo's tenure, a trend they hope to maintain when they visit their American Athletic Conference rivals on Saturday afternoon.

Navy (2-2, 2-0 AAC) is coming off a 31-29 victory over Temple, and despite two blowout defeats this season to Brigham Young and Air Force, looks to move to 3-0 atop the American Atlantic Conference.

Against ECU, Navy has won four straight overall in the series, including last year's 42-10 home victory, scoring touchdowns on its first four possessions and stifling the Pirates after that.

Houston knows falling behind against a team playing the option can make things particularly difficult.

"Hopefully we can get off to a much better start and be much more effective this year," he said. "Obviously, being able to be productive offensively is going to be an important factor."

Houston's experience with the triple-option dates to more than a decade ago, when he was defensive coordinator for option-devotee Fred Goldsmith at Lenoir-Rhyne.

"The program was in bad shape and Coach Goldsmith needed to do something to improve the situation quickly," Houston told the Capital-Gazette. "Coach Goldsmith decided to use the triple-option to give Lenoir-Rhyne an advantage and find a niche for recruiting."

It's similar to Niumatololo's approach at Navy. When Houston was tapped to succeed the retiring Goldsmith, he continued using the triple-option at Lenoir-Rhyne, and later used it effectively as head coach at The Citadel.

"We're facing a machine next week," Houston said. "Navy football, I've watched them for years. We spent a lot of time watching their stuff. They do it as good as anybody in the country."

ECU (1-2, 1-1) is coming off an offensive eruption, defeating South Florida 44-24 a week ago. Holton Ahlers was 17-for-26 passing for 222 yards and three touchdowns, while Rahjai Harris rushed 19 times for 175 yards and two scores.

"Our offensive line is the biggest reason for the improvement in both our passing game and our running game," Houston said. "I thought they played very, very well. The second week for that group together, which I think that was a big factor. They really cut down on the missed assignments. Played much more cohesive and grouped together."

With new defensive coordinator Blake Harrell in place at ECU, Niumatololo expects an enhanced approach from the Pirates' defense.

"There's no doubt in my mind those guys are going to be ready," he said. "I'm sure they've had our game circled. This is going to be a tough game, because their DC has seen it. Coach Houston, for many years, he was the head coach of teams that ran option. They know option football."

Attendance at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium will be limited to seven percent of capacity.

"It's still only going to be 3,500 fans or so, but at least it's going to be 3,500 fans," Houston said. "It's going to be people that are passionate about the Pirates. I look forward to having them in the stands on Saturday."

--Field Level Media

Prediction

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News Recaps

Key Players to Watch

Stadium

Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium
Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
Capacity: 50,000

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Last Injuries

East Carolina Pirates

  • Demetrius Mauney

    Undisclosed
    Ques Oct 30 | questionable

    Mauney missed the last game due to an injury to an unlisted area, and it is unknown if he will dress for Oct. 30 against Tulsa.

  • Darius Pinnix Jr.

    Undisclosed
    Ques Oct 30 | questionable

    Pinnex missed the last game due to an unspecified ailment and it is unknown if he will play Oct. 30 versus Tulsa.

  • Davondre Robinson

    Illness
    Ques Oct 30 | questionable

    Robinson was inactive for the previous game due to COVID-19 contact tracing, and it has yet to be established if he will be permitted to face Tulsa on Oct. 30.

  • Holton Ahlers

    Undisclosed
    Ques Oct 30 | questionable

    Ahlers sat out the last game due to an undetermined injury, and it is unknown if he will face Tulsa on Oct. 30.

  • Damir Faison

    Undisclosed
    Ques Oct 30 | questionable

    Faison sat out the last game due to an undefined ailment, and is unknown if he will line up against Tulsa on Oct. 30.

  • C.J. Johnson

    Undisclosed
    Ques Oct 30 | questionable

    Johnson exited the last game with an unspecified injury, and it remains to be seen if it will impede his status for Oct. 30 against Tulsa.

  • Jsi Hatfield

    Undisclosed
    Prob Sat | probable

    Hatfield is likely to play against Navy on Saturday despite an unspecified injury.

Navy Midshipmen

  • Tommy Lawley

    Undisclosed
    Ques Sat | questionable

    Lawley missed the previous game due to an undefined ailment, and his availability for Saturday's contest against Houston is unknown.

  • Dalen Morris

    Concussion
    Ques Sat | questionable

    Morris departed the previous game with a concussion, and it is unclear if he will pass protocol prior to Saturday's clash with Houston.

  • Evan Fochtman

    Undisclosed
    Ques Sat | questionable

    Fochtman has been held out of the previous two games with an undefined injury, and it is uncertain if he will take part versus Houston on Saturday.

  • Diego Fagot

    Undisclosed
    Prob Sat | probable

    Fagot missed the last game due to an undisclosed issue, but it is expected that he will partake against ECU on Saturday.

  • Tama Tuitele

    Undisclosed
    Ques Sat | questionable

    Tuitele missed the previous game with an unlisted injury, and it is unclear if he will be available for Saturday's contest against ECU.

  • Alefosio Saipaia

    Undisclosed
    Ques Sat | questionable

    Saipaia missed the last game due to an unlisted injury, and it remains to be seen if he will take the field against ECU on Saturday.