Head-to-head: Navy vs. East Carolina

The Navy Midshipmen travel to East Carolina to face the Pirates after their comeback win over Indiana. The Mids overcame a ten point deficit over the final 5:30 to stun Indiana, 31-30, in front of 33,441 fans at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. East Carolina enters the game after recording their second consecutive victory with a 42-35 win over UAB.

The Navy Midshipmen travel to East Carolina to face the Pirates after their comeback win over Indiana. The Mids overcame a ten point deficit over the final 5:30 to stun Indiana, 31-30, in front of 33,441 fans at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. East Carolina enters the game after recording their second consecutive victory with a 42-35 win over UAB. The Pirates defeated the Midshipmen 38-35 in an exciting game at last fall. Navy fell behind but rallied behind backup quarterback Trey Miller's two touchdown passes. The Navy comeback fell short as kicker Jon Teague's game tying field goal attempt banged off the right upright as time ran out.

Navy's Rushing Offense
East Carolina's Rushing Defense
Edge: Even
The Mids are averaging 236 rushing yards per game on the ground. Freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds ran for 66 rushing yards and a touchdown against Indiana. Reynolds did a good job last week but he did miss a number of pitch reads. Senior slotback Bo Snelson had his best game of the season against the Hooisers. Snelson did a tremendous job blocking on the perimeter and he ran for 53 yards on seven carries. Gee Gee Greene (380 yards, 6.8 avg., 1 TD) made a 22-yard run on the game winning touchdown drive.

East Carolina's 3-4 defense is allowing only 123 rushing yards a game. They are currently ranked 32nd in the nation. East Carolina allowed only 82 rushing yards to UAB last week. During the 2011 season the Pirates held Navy to 284 yards and did a nice job limiting the fullback and the quarterback most of the game. The year before Navy's ground attack amassed 521 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns against the Pirates. Inside linebacker Jeremy Grove leads ECU with 55 tackles. Last season Grove earned All- Freshman honors after recording a Pirate freshman record with 122 tackles. Free safety Damon Magazu has made 48 tackles and if they employ the same defense they did last year he will probably shadow the Navy pitchback. Magazu is the son of an NFL coach and understands the game.

Navy's Passing Offense
East Carolina's Passing Defense
Edge: Navy
Last week Navy's freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds was impressive throwing the ball. Reynolds has hit 24-of- 37 passes for 362 yards (64.9%) and four touchdowns. On the game winning drive Reynolds avoided the Indiana blitz and coolly hit Matt Aiken for the game winning touchdown. Gee Gee Greene had a huge 21-yard first down catch on the game winning drive. Since returning to the starting lineup wide receiver Brandon Turner (13 rec., 167 yards, 12.8 avg. 1 TDs) leads Navy in receptions. Navy's offensive line has struggled with pass protection at times but has been helped by Reynolds' quick release.

The Pirates are ranked 76th in the nation in pass defense. Senior strong safety Chip Thompson leads the team with two interceptions. Both of the East Carolina cornerbacks are first year starters. Adonis Armstrong has made 33 tackles with an interception and 11 passes defensed. The Pirates struggle to create pressure as they are ranked only 79th in sacks. Nose tackle Terry Williams knocked down three passes at the line of scrimmage against UAB last week.

East Carolina's Rushing Offense
Navy's Rushing Defense
Edge: Navy
East Carolina's spread offense runs a one back set. Junior Vintavious Cooper rushed for a career-high 172 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries last game. Cooper is the Pirates' leading rusher with 630 yards on 111 carries with three touchdowns. The Pirates rank just 103rd in the nation in rushing, averaging 117.5 yards a game and only 3.5 yards a carry. East Carolina entered last year's game with even worse rushing numbers but Reggie Bullock (84 rushing yards, 3.7 avg., 0 TD) grinded out 104 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries. The Pirates big offensive line averages over 312 pounds per starter. Quarterback Shane Carden (6-2, 218) is a pocket passer and not especially mobile but ECU takes advantage of his size near the goal line and he has run for four touchdowns.

Navy is ranked 77th in the country in run defense allowing 172 rushing yards per game. Navy's defense, after struggling in the first two games, has given up just 79 points over the last five games (20 quarters plus one overtime). It is the fewest points allowed over a five-game stretch since 2009. Inside linebacker has started 21 straight games and has recorded 43 tackles this year. Outside linebacker Keegan Wetzel continues to excel. Wetzel recorded a season high eight tackles against Indiana.

East Carolina's Passing Offense
Navy's Passing Defense
Edge: East Carolina

East Carolina's passing offense is ranked 41st in the country. At quarterback sophomore Shane Carden has been a solid replacement for the graduated Dominique Davis. Carden has completed 141 of his 219 passes for 1,685 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. Carden has an excellent arm and his play has improved the last two weeks. Over the last two games Carden has thrown seven touchdown passes. Carden's favorite target is wide receiver Justin Hardy, who has 51 catches for 749 yards and eight touchdowns. Hardy is tied for 18th in the country in receiving yards per game (93.6). Huge wide receiver Justin Jones (6-8, 257) is a force near the goal line with three touchdown receptions on 16 catches. East Carolina racked up a Ruffin McNeil era-best 600 yards and scored on its first four second-half possessions to overcome a halftime deficit and produce a 42-35 Conference USA road win at UAB last week.

The Mids rank 84th in the nation in pass defense. Outside linebacker Jordan Drake's 24- yard interception return for a touchdown against Indiana was Navy's second interception return for a touchdown this year. Drake was named the NAAA Athlete of the Week for his performance. His second quarter interception return changed the momentum in the game. Jordan made a team-high tying eight tackles in the game. During GoMids.com annual I-day review of the incoming freshman class we mentioned the Naval Academy Prep school (NAPS) team produced a number of talented defensive backs who could help the Mids secondary. After starting cornerback Jonathan Wev's career was ended due to multiple concussions he was replaced by Quincy Adams. GoMids.com had previously written that Adams (23 tackles, 1 INT, 4 pass def.) was the most talented new plebe cornerback and he didn't disappoint. Adams was forced to miss the Indiana game with a stinger. In stepped Kwazel Betrand who was also a starter last season at NAPS. In his first extended game action he recorded seven tackles and knocked down two passes.

Special Teams
Edge: Navy
ECU has a new at the placekicker and punter this year. Sophomore Warren Harvey (24-24 PATs, 10-14 FGs) and junior Trent Tignor (41.4 avg.) have been solid in their first years handling their respective jobs. Harvey has made his last eight field goal attempts. Punt returner Justin Hardy is fast and makes the first man miss, averaging 9.0 yards per return. Lance Ray is averaging 21.4 yards on kickoff returns and has returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown this season.. The Pirates have struggled covering punts and kickoffs. They have allowing 12.3 per opposition punt return. On kickoffs the opposition has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and is averaging 28.0 per kickoff return.

Navy sophomore punter Pablo Beltran is averaging 45.1 yards per punt on 25 punts. Freshman Nick Sloan is one of just 16 true freshman kickers starting in the FBS this year. He is a perfect 7-for-7 on field goals and 17-for-17 on extra-points. He is one of just two kickers in the country that has not missed a kick all year. Sloan showed he was a clutch place kicker last season at NAPS but his consistency has been remarkable considering how unsettled the kicking position was this summer with seven players vying for the job. Marcus Thomas has averaged 22.6 yards on kickoff returns. On punt returns Shawn Lynch has averaged 10.7 per return but his failure to fair catch a punt in the fourth quarter against Indiana last week and let the ball bounce cost valuable field position. Navy's coverage teams have been steady.

Edge: Navy
Ruffin McNeill is 16-17 (.485) in his third season at East Carolina, while overall, he is 17-17 (.500) as a collegiate head coach after guiding Texas Tech to a 41-31 victory over Michigan State in the Valero Alamo Bowl on an interim basis. He brought his wide open attack from Texas Tech. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley is one of the youngest offensive coordinators in the country.

Head football coach Ken Niumatalolo has done a remarkable job with his young football team. This season Navy has played 12 true freshmen which is tied as the ninth most in the country. Navy has had 17 players make their first career starts this fall, which is the fourth most in the country. Buddy Green's defense after allowing 84 points the first two weeks has played its best football in years over the past month.

Edge: Navy
East Carolina won an exciting game last year but they remember the Midshipmen's last visit to East Carolina when they gave up an embarrassing 76 points to Navy in 2010. East Carolina is playing its best offensive football the last two weeks. They produced over 600 yards of offense against UAB. Navy's young team needs to remain focused after a huge win over Indiana. Navy enters the weekend having won three consecutive games overall and two straight on the road. The last time Navy won four in a row came at the end of the 2010 season.

PREDICTION: Navy, 31-28. In the first two meetings between these two programs (2006, 2010) Navy won both games by rushing for a combined 924 yards and averaging seven yards a carry. Last year the Pirates shut down the fullback and limited Navy's ground attack. East Carolina's defense enters this game allowing just 123 rushing yards a game. It's the classic battle of strength versus strength. Whichever team wins this battle should win the game. Trey Miller had success passing against the Pirates last year and I believe freshman Keenan Reynolds will do the same.

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