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Navy vs. East Carolina football preview: Mids host Pirates to open AAC play

Navy has dominated East Carolina in each of their last two meetings. Will this one have a similar result?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 Holy Cross at Navy Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Navy Midshipmen are set to play their second game of the year against the visiting East Carolina Pirates. The match kicks off the first conference game for both squads, raising the stakes ever so slightly.

Navy enters the game with a lone win over FCS opponent, Holy Cross. In Week 1 of college football, the Midshipmen dominated the Crusaders with a 45-7 victory. Similarly, East Carolina comes to town with a single win. That win, too, was over an FCS team, Gardner-Webb, and by a score of 48-9. However, the Pirates have a loss on their record, which came at the hands of NC State in their season opener.

While Navy is coming off of a bye week and are likely more rested, the ECU Pirates have an extra game under their belt, allowing them to be a more experienced and cohesive unit.

Pirates’ Preview

On the Pirates’ offense, there have only been three names that have stood out over the first two games of the season: Holton Alhers, Darius Pinnix Jr., and Blake Proehl. Holton Alhers, East Carolina’s sophomore starting quarterback, is in his second year starting under center for the Pirates. Last season, he began the season as the backup with limited reps in the games before becoming the starter halfway through the year. Most notably, Alhers only threw three total interceptions in 2018. This year, he already has two interceptions over the first two weeks. He is a legitimate dual-threat quarterback who can do damage on the ground if not contained by the defense, but his accuracy appears to be struggling.

Darius Pinnix Jr., a junior, leads the Pirates in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and is tied with Alhers for the lead in rushing touchdowns. As the primary running back, Pinnix Jr. is the perfect weapon to compliment Alhers in Coach Mike Houston’s balanced offense. He is a tall, strong running back who, when thrown to, has made the most of his receptions. The Pirates will look to establish a run-game early on against Navy.

Holton Alhers’ favorite target at wideout thus far has been fellow sophomore, Blake Proehl. At 6-foot-1, 186 pounds, Proehl is small but a catching machine. He has 12 receptions on the year, which is by far the most on team. He is a reliable target for Alhers’ and will be used in a crutch.

As for the defense, well, there are a myriad of players on East Carolina that have contributed this season. In reality, no one player will have that large of effect on stopping the Navy offense, but rather they will need to work as a disciplined unit to be effective. However, given that this is Coach Houston’s first year as head coach, the defense may struggle against the triple-option.

How to Watch:

Time: 3:30 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday, Sep. 14.

Watch: CBS Sports

Location: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium

Rankings: According to CBS Sports rankings, Navy is 102 and East Carolina is 108.

Betting Lines: Navy is favored by 7 points. Over/Under: 53.5

The Hype:

Keys to Victory

As with any service academy football team, managing the clock and limiting turnover and penalties are the simplest means to victory. There were a handful of questionable pitches and botched handoffs in Navy’s first game against Holy Cross. If those happen again, East Carolina will undoubtedly take advantage of the mistakes. If Navy quarterback, Malcolm Perry, can take care of the football and get the ball in the hands of the right players, the Midshipmen will have no issues scoring over 30 points come Saturday.

The East Carolina Pirates have a dynamic quarterback who can beat them both in the air and on the ground. Therefore, not giving up long passing plays and containing him from getting outside of the defensive ends will be the key to stopping the Pirates’ offense. Sure, there will be plenty of yards gained. However ideally, a handful of East Carolina’s drives will end in field goals, vice touchdowns.

Holy Cross at Navy Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

What to look for and predictions

When Navy sent out their field goal unit against Holy Cross, we saw a new face, Bijan Nicols. A true freshman, Nicols, absolutely crushed his first collegiate field goal for 44 yards. But the ball didn’t just barely make it over the post. The kick went straight down the pipes and would have been good from over 55 yards out. Keep an eye on Nicols as the new kicker in town. Additionally, Navy fullback, Nelson Smith, had a breakout game against Holy Cross, rushing for three touchdowns and nearly 100 yards. The Midshipmen will look to use him extensively against the Pirates.

The Midshipmen have done well against ECU in the past, scoring 66 points in 2016, and 56 in 2012. As the Midshipmen continue to find their identity, there will be more growing pains in this week’s matchup. However, it won’t be bad enough to cause them their first conference and season loss. Navy will earn the home win, 35-24 over the East Carolina Pirates.