Navy’s option won’t surprise ECU

Navy’s option won’t surprise ECU

In his 25-year career at Navy as an assistant and head coach, Ken Niumatololo has been immersed in a disciplined, consistent approach with a commitment to triple-option football – in part owing to the fact that few teams around the country employ the ground-first offense.

It has worked to the point that Niumatololo earned his 100th victory at Annapolis last week in his 14th season.

This week, however, he’s aware that his team’s opponent — East Carolina, with a first-year coaching staff — will be familiar with the challenge of facing the unusual offense.

“It’s not like we’re going to sneak up on them or anything,” Niumatalolo said of the Pirates, with coach Mike Houston. “Coach Houston is very well versed in the triple option. The things we do are not going to be anything new for him. They’ve got a lot of guys on their staff who have seen what we have done.”

The Midshipmen have been especially solid against East Carolina during Niumatololo’s tenure, a trend they hope to maintain when they visit their American Athletic Conference rivals on Saturday afternoon.

Navy (2-2, 2-0 AAC) is coming off a 31-29 victory over Temple, and despite two blowout defeats this season to Brigham Young and Air Force, looks to move to 3-0 atop the American Atlantic Conference.

Against ECU, Navy has won four straight overall in the series, including last year’s 42-10 home victory, scoring touchdowns on its first four possessions and stifling the Pirates after that.

Houston knows falling behind against a team playing the option can make things particularly difficult.

“Hopefully we can get off to a much better start and be much more effective this year,” he said. “Obviously, being able to be productive offensively is going to be an important factor.”

Houston’s experience with the triple-option dates to more than a decade ago, when he was defensive coordinator for option-devotee Fred Goldsmith at Lenoir-Rhyne.

“The program was in bad shape and Coach Goldsmith needed to do something to improve the situation quickly,” Houston told the Capital-Gazette. “Coach Goldsmith decided to use the triple-option to give Lenoir-Rhyne an advantage and find a niche for recruiting.”

It’s similar to Niumatololo’s approach at Navy. When Houston was tapped to succeed the retiring Goldsmith, he continued using the triple-option at Lenoir-Rhyne, and later used it effectively as head coach at The Citadel.

“We’re facing a machine next week,” Houston said. “Navy football, I’ve watched them for years. We spent a lot of time watching their stuff. They do it as good as anybody in the country.”

ECU (1-2, 1-1) is coming off an offensive eruption, defeating South Florida 44-24 a week ago. Holton Ahlers was 17-for-26 passing for 222 yards and three touchdowns, while Rahjai Harris rushed 19 times for 175 yards and two scores.

“Our offensive line is the biggest reason for the improvement in both our passing game and our running game,” Houston said. “I thought they played very, very well. The second week for that group together, which I think that was a big factor. They really cut down on the missed assignments. Played much more cohesive and grouped together.”

With new defensive coordinator Blake Harrell in place at ECU, Niumatololo expects an enhanced approach from the Pirates’ defense.

“There’s no doubt in my mind those guys are going to be ready,” he said. “I’m sure they’ve had our game circled. This is going to be a tough game, because their DC has seen it. Coach Houston, for many years, he was the head coach of teams that ran option. They know option football.”

Attendance at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium will be limited to seven percent of capacity.

“It’s still only going to be 3,500 fans or so, but at least it’s going to be 3,500 fans,” Houston said. “It’s going to be people that are passionate about the Pirates. I look forward to having them in the stands on Saturday.”

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