ECU prepares for all the options
BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
East Carolina's defensive preparations for Navy's triple-option offense ramped up Sunday night.
On Tuesday, ECU first-year coach Mike Houston said simulating the speed the Pirates will see Saturday at Navy is difficult no matter how much time is spent on it during practice.
Making it especially difficult this week for the Pirates, who are 1-1 overall and are preparing for Houston's debut game in the American Athletic Conference, is that Navy hasn't played since a 45-7 Week 1 victory over Holy Cross.
"We went out and we practiced Sunday and I thought that it wasn't bad because our guys were seeing the scheme again after seeing it during preseason camp," Houston said. "They understood the basics of how we want to play this, but then you go and flip on the tape of them against Holy Cross and you see the speed that comes at you and the precise execution that they played with in that ball game. It's a completely different animal. That is the challenge."
Houston, whose ECU squad just beat Gardner-Webb 48-9 on Saturday night, added that multiple players will be used as the scout team quarterback in trying to mimic Midshipen QB Malcolm Perry, who was a part-time slot back for Navy in 2018.
Navy rushed for 428 yards against Holy Cross, led by starting fullback Nelson Smith and his 15 carries for 96 yards and three touchdowns. Perry was 6-of-9 passing for 103 yards, and on the ground he ran 10 times for 28 yards and a TD.
"We have a couple quarterbacks who have athleticism, but the hard thing is they are the ones playing," Houston said of the Pirates' scout team. "We have some guys who have played in the wishbone at other positions in the past, so we are using them this week. Practice is going to structured a little bit different. .... It's all hands on deck to really prepare."
Notable on the Pirates' new depth chart is that Mike Witherspoon "or" Malik Fleming are listed to start at cornerback opposite true freshman Ja'Quan McMillian, whose interception versus Gardner-Webb was East Carolina's first takeaway of the season and the first under defensive coordinator Bob Trott. Witherspoon, a senior, started Week 1 and Week 2. Fleming and McMillian are both freshmen.
On offense, either Hussein Howe or Demetrius Mauney could be the main backup running back to starter Darius Pinnix. Mauney (107) and Pinnix (134, two touchdowns) both rushed for more than 100 yards against the Bulldogs, and Howe had 9 yards on four carries.
The breakout night for ECU's offense against an overmatched opponent came one week after gaining a total of 41 rushing yards in a loss at N.C. State.
"My mindset is just do what I can for this offense," Pinnix said. "I want to do what I can so that we can put points on the board and so we can win."
Navy 12th-year coach Ken Niumatalolo stressed Monday during the AAC teleconference that the Pirates are an athletic team. Houston responded Tuesday with a unique appreciation for Navy's athleticism.
Like ECU, the Midshipmen are trying to bounce back from a three-win season last year.
"They are more athletic than he will ever let on," said Houston, who coached The Citadel in 2014 and '15, of the Navy coach. "Every service academy or military school coach I have ever seen, they talk about how much more athletic the opponents are than them. Yes, I think we have some good players and some talented guys, but he has a bunch of them too."
Contact Ronnie Woodward at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.