ECU hosts Navy in final nonconference game

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) - East Carolina’s perennially tough nonconference schedule ends Saturday with a new challenge.

The Pirates (5-3) have scored plenty of points with their new spread offense, but they’ve struggled defensively all season and now must try to slow Navy’s triple-option attack.

That could be a lot to ask for an overhauled defense that already ranks among the nation’s worst statistically before it even gets a look at the Midshipmen’s run-driven scheme.

“If you’re a defense that’s making progress … playing solid football, you ought to be able to do that against anything,” said John Wiley, ECU’s linebackers coach and associate head coach. “It’s about assignments and executing techniques and doing it with good pad level.”

Wiley says they expect to “execute with good technique and great effort.”

East Carolina is coming off a loss at UCF, the Pirates’ first in Conference USA play this season as they pursue a third straight league championship.

The Pirates have already played three Atlantic Coast Conference schools in nonconference play, losing at Virginia Tech and North Carolina but beating in overtime North Carolina State, which is now ranked 23rd nationally.

But a defense that already ranks among the worst in the country against the run (181 yards per game allowed) will see something completely new against the Midshipmen (5-3).

First-year head coach Ruffin McNeill said the staff typically teaches basic techniques for defending the triple-option during spring drills, but the Pirates couldn’t do it this year because they were so busy installing their own new schemes following a coaching change.

The coaches offered some basic instruction in during preseason camp, then started drilling the specifics Sunday.

“The players have really caught on well,” McNeill said. “The speed of it will happen faster on Saturday. That’ll be an adjustment.”

The Pirates have managed to throw the ball on just about everyone, with Boston College and junior college transfer Dominique Davis averaging a conference-best 291 yards passing.

But considering the defense’s struggles, East Carolina can’t afford to abandon the run completely as it tries to sustain drives and keep Navy’s offense on the sideline.

“We’ll go out there with our game plan of throwing the ball and running the ball,” running back Jon Williams said. “We have a couple of new things in this week and it’s as long as we run those effectively and make routine plays. That’s our mindset.”

Of course, Navy’s offense struggled to defend Duke’s passing game last week and could have similar trouble against East Carolina.

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