The East Carolina-South Florida football game on Saturday has been moved from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to Florida Atlantic’s FAU Stadium in Boca Raton to avoid the anticipated path of Hurricane Ian. Kickoff has been reset from 7 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
It’s still the first road game of 2022 for the Pirates (2-2) and a chance to even their American Athletic Conference record after a 23-20 double overtime loss at home to Navy in the league opener at home last week.
“It’s the key to every season,” said ECU coach Mike Houston on Tuesday. “You’ve got to be great on the road to have special seasons, and so it’s a new challenge for us this week. We do have a lot of older players, so they’ll be ready for that.”
Thoughts on Navy
Although Navy improved to 5-0 against the Pirates in games played in Greenville, ECU limited the Midshipmen to their lowest point total in the series.
“A disappointing loss,” Houston said. “A really good college football game. Very good Navy team. Exactly what I thought we’d see. They did exactly what I thought they would do during the bye week and got some of their issues cleaned up. I thought that both teams played very hard, very physical. Both teams went at each other. It was obviously a highly competitive game, a very close game. It’s one that you hate that either team lost, and you certainly hate that we’re the ones that came out on the negative end of that.
“We gave ourselves opportunities at the end of regulation and in overtime and in the second overtime to win the game, and then we just did not make the plays at the times we had to make the plays to win it. And that’s something, we’re going to be in a bunch of those close games. I said at the beginning of the season we’ve got a good football team. We have a very challenging schedule. We’re going to be in a bunch of close football games. We’ve got to execute better at the end of the ball game to win the game.”
ECU set the tone early on defense with a successful goal-line stand, stopping Navy on 4th-and-goal at the Pirates’ 1-yard line.
“The first drive there, I thought we struggled a little bit with the speed of Navy’s execution, but I thought after that goal line stand, I thought we settled down, and really there was only probably two plays the rest of the night that I felt like we didn’t play well or didn’t execute well on,” Houston said. “So, I do think that after looking at last year’s game, we played very well (defensively) against them in ’20. Last year, it was more of a shootout up there in Annapolis. We really spent a lot of time this summer. We made some significant adjustments to our game plans against the triple option, and we threw some things at them that we hadn’t done before. I thought our kids did a great job with executing that on the night, and I thought we did a great job matching their physicality.
“I thought our defensive line, linebacker, safeties — I thought we really did a great job of attacking their ball carriers, and for the most of that played really solid. Now, we can’t give up the big pass play. That’s the whole deal with that offense, is discipline with your eyes, and you had one eye violation there and it cost us six points, and then we just, we didn’t play well enough. But certainly, I think our kids competed at a high level and it was great to see just the fire and intensity we were playing with defensively. I hate that it wasn’t enough.”
Navy turned an ECU fumble in Pirates territory into a fourth quarter touchdown and stopped ECU’s last possession in regulation with an interception. The Pirates had not turned the ball over since the first half of the season opener against N.C. State.
“It was one of our keys to the game all week for our players, is penalties and turnovers,” Houston said. “We had to win those areas, and that in the end is what cost us. We gave them a short field there in the fourth quarter with the turnover offensively and they were able to capitalize on that. We were able to come back and tie the game, but then when we got the ball with two timeouts and some good time on the clock and we’re driving, in my mind, I’m setting up scenarios of when to use the timeouts and to how to get us in range to try a field goal or win the game outright. And that (interception) was just a poor decision by Holton (Ahlers). He knows it and he hates it.
“There was no need to force that throw. It was 2nd and 1. We had the two timeouts in our pocket so he could run it, he could throw it away, he could do whatever. There was no rush right there in that situation. And so, I hate that we didn’t get a chance to win the game in regulation, because it ended up costing us.”
ECU’s leading rusher, Keaton Mitchell, went out in the third quarter against Navy.
Houston said he expected Mitchell to practice Tuesday.
“I expect him to be full speed on Saturday,” said the Pirates coach.
The Navy game ended with a missed 37-yard field goal attempt by Owen Daffer of the Pirates.
Daffer’s back-up, Carson Smith, has been out with an injury for two weeks.
“I’m going to put the best players out there,” Houston said. “And I can promise you, Owen Daffer is our best placekicker.
“He had a great week of practice last week. I thought he kicked the ball well all night Saturday night, and I thought he hit a good ball on the last one in the second overtime. I think his alignment was off just a smidge and it missed by about a foot.”
Recourse on officiating
Navy had one penalty for five yards. A targeting call on Elijah Morris was roundly booed.
There was no call on hits by the Midshipmen on Ahlers after he had initiated a slide.
“I have the ability to submit plays for review to the head of officials each week, which I did this week,” Houston said. “I did have a conversation with the head of officials, so I followed through on the procedures that are in place for me to follow.”
South Florida is 1-3 going into its AAC opener with ECU. The Bulls lost 31-28 at Florida before absorbing a 41-3 pounding last week at Louisville,
“They’re extremely talented in all three phases,” Houston said. “They have a lot of guys that have played a lot of football at the college level and had a lot of success. So, I mean, you can look at their game against Howard and their game against the University of Florida and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is a really good football team.’ They had Florida beat, had the lead late in the fourth quarter. Florida scored. They drove the length of the field, had it set up to kick a field goal to send it to overtime and had a bobbled snap. So that’s the only reason they’re not sitting here 2-2.
“They had a lot of guys that did not play against Louisville this past weekend and they really struggled against Louisville, but we have heard that those guys will be back this Saturday, so we expect to see them at pretty close to full strength.
“Their quarterback, (Gerry) Bohanon, is a transfer from Baylor. He was the starter at Baylor last year. Had a huge season at Baylor last year, which we know Baylor put up some huge numbers on offense. He’s 6-3, 230, dual threat. He can really run it. He can really throw it. He has multiple really high-end talented receivers. Xavier Weaver, number 10, we’ve seen him for several years. Jimmy Horn played against us last year, very talented. Khafre Brown has had a big year this year, so he’s got some weapons out wide. And Brian Battie, the running back, was first team all-conference kick returner last year, has home run speed. Very good offensive line, so a very explosive, dangerous offense.
“They’ve had some great moments and they’ve struggled some. We see a bunch that can really put up some points if they get going, and really, it’s really a lot of the same on defense. They have about 12, 14 transfers and they’re on the defensive side of the ball. So, you got guys from Power Five programs. They have three really good inside linebackers. That’s really kind of the strength of their defense. They have a couple of transfer defensive linemen. They’re really good players. One from Minnesota, one from Missouri. Their secondary is primarily transfers, Kansas State, Rutgers, Michigan, Clemson. So, it’s a group that’s kind of new to each other, and I think that’s maybe caused them to play inconsistent at times. But as you saw against Florida, it’s a group that’s talented enough to play against an SEC team and be competitive and have a chance to win.”
Houston explained what will be involved in getting a win this week.
“We’ve got to have a great week of practice,” he said. “I think we’ve got to iron out the execution issues for us, and really enter the weekend in a good place mentally and physically.
“We’ve got to just go down there and play our brand of ball and just be the best version of us. We’ve got a good football team. We’ve all seen that four straight weeks, and you’re two plays away from sitting here 4-0.
“You are what your record says you are, you’re 2-2. So, we know we can do it, I’ve got confidence in the kids, and so we’ve just got to work on being the best version of ourselves that we can be and go play our ball game.”