ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Navy and East Carolina shared one thing in common entering this season, with each team picked to finish in fifth place in their respective divisions in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll. The Midshipmen have been off for two weeks since routing Holy Cross and will look to win their fifth consecutive conference opener against the visiting Pirates on Saturday afternoon.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network. LINE: Navy -7.5.
Navy hardly worked up a sweat in its season opener, rolling to a 45-7 victory but will get a truer test against East Carolina, which is also coming off a three-win campaign in 2018. The Midshipmen have won five of six in the all-time series and amassed 167 points in winning the last three, including a 66-31 romp in November of 2016. The Pirates are hard to gauge under first-year coach Mike Houston, who guided James Madison to consecutive appearances in the FCS national championship game in 2016 and 2017. East Carolina was unable to keep pace with North Carolina State in its opener, falling 34-6, before easing past overmatched Gardner-Webb 48-9 last week in its home opener.
ABOUT EAST CAROLINA (1-1)
The Pirates leaned on their ground game in last week's victory, piling up 365 yards on the ground as Darius Pinnix Jr. rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns, while quarterback Holton Ahlers added 78 yards and two scores and passes for 195 yards and a TD. The biggest issue for East Carolina last season was a defense that allowed an average of 37.3 points and must prepare for the triple-option attack of the Midshipmen that churned out 480 rushing yards in the last meeting. "The system is the reason that Navy has been so successful for so many years," Houston said. "They have the ability to have interchangeable parts, so we've got to do a great job defending what they do."
ABOUT NAVY (1-0)
Running back Nelson Smith was the star of the opening week for the Midshipmen, rushing for 96 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries, but he was one of four players to notch at least 55 yards on the ground -- and that didn't include quarterback Malcolm Perry. Coach Ken Niumatalolo wants to expand the passing game this season, and it resulted in Perry throwing for a career-best 103 yards on 6-of-9 versus Holy Cross - a dramatic improvement after he completed only 9-of-23 passes for 222 yards in 2018. Perry wound up with only 28 yards and a TD on 10 carries in the opener, but he is the team's most dangerous offensive threat, rushing for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons.
1. Perry is one of four players in school history with three 200-yard rushing games.
2. Pirates LB Xavier Smith has a team-high 17 tackles, three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
3. Navy freshman PK Bijan Nichols converted a 44-yard field goal and all six PATs in the opener.
PREDICTION: Navy 27, East Carolina 23