Head-to-head: Navy vs. East Carolina

The Navy Midshipmen return home to face the East Carolina Pirates after losing their fourth consecutive game for the first time since 2002. The Mids lost to Rutgers 21-20 after a late Jon Teague field goal attempt was blocked. Similar to Navy, the Pirates has experienced a very disappointing (2-4) record.

Last week quarterback Dominique Davis threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns to lead a 35-17 comeback victory over Memphis. Navy leads the series 2-0. Last year Navy dominated ECU 76-35 after a close first half.

East Carolina
Navy rushing offense
East Carolina rushing defense
Navy poor performance against Rutgers caused them to drop to fourth in the nation in rushing. The Mids are averaging 332 yards per game on the ground. Navy struggled to block Rutgers talented physical defensive front and rushed for a season low 162 yards. Kriss Proctor missed a number of option reads. Proctor (563 yards, 4.5 avg., 8 TDs in 2011) did show terrific speed in breaking a 54-yard run late in the first half for a touchdown. B-back Alexander Teich (477 yards, 4.9 avg., 1 TD) returned to the lineup against Rutgers after missing a game for violating team rules. Big play slotback John Howell (229 yards, 13.5 per carry, 4 TDs) didn't have a carry against Rutgers.

East Carolina switched to a 3-4 defense this season. East Carolina allowed only 56 rushing yards to Memphis last week. That was a break from the recent past as the Pirates have struggled mightily against the run. They are currently ranked 85th in the nation in run defense. In the ten previous games before last week the Pirates' rush defense gave up a whopping 2,493 ground yards and 38 rushing TDs. Last year Navy's ground attack amassed 521 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Redshirt freshman inside linebacker Jeremy Grove missed last week with a shoulder injury. Grove has been a tackling machine for the Pirates leading Conference USA with 66 tackles. Fellow inside linebacker Daniel Drake (48 tackles in 2011) recorded his first career sack last week against Memphis. Up front nose tackle Michael Brooks (26 tackles) has rebounded from an injury plagued 2010 season to return to his 2009 form, when he was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team.  
Navy passing offense
East Carolina passing defense
Last week Kriss Proctor struggled at times throwing the ball in the windy conditions against Rutgers. That said, Kriss deserved a better fate as Navy receivers dropped two key passes. Slotback Mike Stukel dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone. Proctor hit wide receiver Brandon Turner (7 rec., 156 yards, 22.3 avg., 2 TDs in 2011) on a crossing pattern early in the third quarter but the ball bounced off his chest and was batted around before being picked off by a Rutgers defensive back. Proctor hit Navy's big play slotback John Howell for a 40-yard pass last week. Matt Aiken (7 rec, 119 yards, 1 TD) and slotback Gee Gee Greene (7 rec., 86 yards, 2 TDs) are tied with Turner for the team lead in receptions. Navy's offensive line struggled trying to pass block against the Rutgers defense and allowed four sacks.

East Carolina moved Derek Blacknall to cornerback this year because he has good speed and solid lateral quickness. Blacknall has posted one interception, four passes defensed and 12 tackles this season. Last year, as a free safety, Blacknall made 73 tackles while also picking off two passes and breaking up another six. The Pirates are ranked 57th in the nation in pass defense. Free safety Damon Magazu is the son of an NFL coach and understands the game. Magazu has picked off a pass this season and has posted 36 tackles. Senior strong safety Bradley Jacobs is a physical player who has made 37 tackles and has two passes defensed. Last year Jacobs was this unit's best player recording 80 tackles while leading the team with four interceptions and two forced fumbles. The Pirates don't create a lot of pass rush pressure up front. Defensive end Derrell Johnson leads the team with two sacks.
East Carolina rushing offense
Navy rushing defense
East Carolina spread offense struggles to run the ball. The Pirates ranks just 115th in the nation in rushing, averaging 83.7 yards a game and only 3.1 yards a carry because they've allowed 16 sacks. Those numbers are a little misleading. Starting running back Torrance Hunt (163 rushing yards, 5.8 avg., 1 TD) and Reggie Bullock (324 rushing yards, 4.7 avg., 1 TD) haven't carried the ball a lot but have been productive. I don't take much comfort in those numbers. Rutgers entered last week also ranked 115th in the nation at the time and ran for 152 yards. Quarterback Dominique Davis (2 TDs in 2011) doesn't run often but he is mobile. His rushing numbers are affected by the sacks ECU allows but last season he ran for over 300 yards and nine touchdowns. The Pirates offensive line will be without two starters this week. Doug Polochak has a knee injury and is expected to miss the game. Adhem Elsawi is also listed doubtful with a knee injury.

Navy is ranks 104th in the country in rush defense allowing over 209 rushing yards per game. Navy's defense continues to get dominated at the point of attack. Last week the Mids weren't trampled against Rutgers like they were against Southern Miss. Still, Navy allowed Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison to rush for 101 yards and a touchdown. Rutgers entered the game averaging just 2.1 yards a carry. The Mid linebackers continue to over-run plays and miss tackles. Matt Warrick led Navy with 12 tackles last week and played well in pass coverage tipping two passes. Chris Ferguson forced a fumble near the goal line to end Rutgers' second drive. Outside linebacker Jarred Shannon (17 tackles in 2011) was active last week but tends to get stuck on blocks.
East Carolina passing offense
Navy passing defense
East Carolina has one of the best passing offenses in the country. The Pirates passing offense is ranked 18th in the country. At quarterback Dominique Davis has thrown for 5,608 yards and 49 touchdowns during his two year ECU career. Davis has completed 68.5% of his passes for 1641 yards with 12 touchdowns against 10 interceptions this fall. Lance Lewis (45 rec., 481 yards, 6 TDs) leads the Pirates in receptions. He is a big physical receiver. Last year he caught 89 passes for 1,116 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. Justin Hardy has made 41 catches for 436 yards and three touchdowns. East Carolina's offensive line has allowed 16 sacks despite Davis being mobile.

The Mids rank 102th in the nation in pass defense. Navy's struggling secondary is hoping for cornerback David Wright (21 tackles, 1 pass defenses) to return this week from an ankle injury. Cornerback David Sperry (30 tackles, 1 interception) had a rough game in coverage last week. Kwesi Mitchell was moved back to cornerback replacing the injured Wright. Plebe Chris Ferguson (4 tackles, 1 INT, one forced fumble) played a terrific game in his first start. Ferguson intercepted a pass tipped by Warrick and scored on a 16-yard interception return against Rutgers. Navy has recorded just four sacks this season.
Special Teams
East Carolina kicker Michael Barbour has hit 5-of-7 field goals this season. Punter Ben Ryan has a strong leg. He is averaging 41.8 yards per punt and has placed eight punts inside the 20-yard line and has nailed four punts over 50 yards. Punt returner Lance Lewis usually makes the first man miss, averaging 11.6 yards per return. Michael Bowman is averaging 23.2 yards on kickoff returns. The Pirates have struggled covering punts allowing opponents 15.3 yards per punt return with one touchdown.

Navy has seen a kick blocked in three consecutive games. Jon Teague's line drive field goal and extra point attempts along with poorly designed blocking schemes continue to be a problem. Teague has missed or had blocked four extra point attempts and three field goal attempts. On the year, he has hit six of nine field goal attempts. Plebe punter Pablo Beltran has averaged 39.3 yards per punt. Marcus Thomas (19.3 yards per return) has been replaced on kickoff returns by Darius Staten and Bo Snelson. Navy has struggled on kickoff coverage allowing an average of 26 yards on returns. On punt returns sure handed Matt Aiken has replaced the ineffective Gary Myers who failed to catch too many punts costing valuable field position.
Ruffin McNeill took over the Pirates last year. He brought his wide open attack from Texas Tech. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley is one of the youngest coordinators in the country. Despite the score, last year's game was tied at 21 before a flurry of third quarter turnovers made the game a blowout.

Buddy Green's defense will have trouble against this spread passing attack with his soft zone unless the Mids can force turnovers like last season. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo's season is on the brink in a must win game after four straight losses. Ivin Jasper's offense ran all over the Pirates last season.
East Carolina enters this game looking for some payback from last year. Navy has gotten off to slow starts in their last two games at Annapolis being outscored 56-10. That kind of lethargic beginning must be avoided this week. The Navy season and their bowl hopes are on the brink with this week's game and I expect them to play like it. Navy's defense wasn't great last week but they played a lot better.

PREDICTION: Navy, 45-35. Both teams will move the ball. The Pirates looked lost last year against the Mids spread option allowing nearly 600 yards of offense. It should be a shootout but I see Navy prevailing at home.

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