Bowl eligibility is very much in contention for the Navy Midshipmen, but to achieve it, they will need to win two of their last three games. The first of those three games will be at home, where they will host a 2-8 East Carolina team coming off their first win since week four. With the Midshipmen fresh off their best offensive performance of the year, I’ll break down why I think they can keep it rolling this weekend against the Pirates.
By picking up a 31-6 win over UAB last weekend, the Midshipmen were able to snap a two-game losing streak and continue their season of inconsistency. Through nine games, Navy has not been able to win more than two games in a row or lose more than two games in a row. This week's question is whether they can follow up on their performance and improve their offensive success rate, which still ranks 110th.
It’s no surprise what Navy wants to do on offense, which is run the ball. With an average of 46.8 rush attempts per game, the Midshipmen rank 5th in that statistical category. Navy has plenty of guys they can lean on in the run game, but Alex Tecza has seen the most action with 91 carries.
Tecza will have his work cut out for them this weekend against an ECU team whose lone strength this season has been their run defense. The Pirates rank 28th in rushing yards allowed per game (118.6) and 23rd in yards allowed per carry (3.4), ranking them 2nd in defensive success rate on rush plays. Over the last two weeks, ECU’s defense has managed to hold their opponents to a combined 20 points, yet they are still 1-1 in that span due to their lack of offense.
With two games left in the year, the Pirates are 130th in the country in average points per game and 131st in offensive success rate. Whether on the ground or through the air, ECU has not been able to build any positive momentum. Despite ranking 33rd in pass play percentage, the Pirates are 120th in passing yards per game, and starting quarterback Alex Flinn is currently posting a 4:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
With both teams coming off a win, the Navy Midshipmen enter this week as (-2.5) point favorites, and I’ll be backing them for my play in this one. Navy is 25th in the country in time of possession, which means ECU will need to capitalize on almost every possession they get since it won’t be as many as usual. With that, I don’t think their offense can sustain scoring drives enough to stay in the game, especially since they are 121st in third-down conversion percentage.
Their inability to move the ball downfield does not match up well with the Navy defense since they rank 22nd in opponent third down conversion rate and 3rd in takeaways per game with an average of 2.1. ECU is 125th and 126th in EPA per pass play and rush play, respectively, so they will be putting a lot of pressure on their defense this weekend.
While the Pirates may be a good run defense, the Midshipmen are coming with a new level of run game. When these teams met last season, Navy rushed for 241 yards, and that was without current leading rusher Alex Tecza. In what will be a defensive-heavy game, I like the Midshipmen to create enough offense to build and sustain a lead.
Navy Midshipmen (-2.5)(-110)