PirateIllustrated - ECU Talks About Their Offensive Approach Against Navy
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ECU Talks About Their Offensive Approach Against Navy

ECU receiver Jai Hatfield is expected to make his return when the Pirates host Navy this Saturday on ESPN2.
ECU receiver Jai Hatfield is expected to make his return when the Pirates host Navy this Saturday on ESPN2.

The Pirates face yet another stiff test offensively when they host Navy this Saturday in Greenville. ECU will look to improve to 2-2 if they can pick up their second AAC victory of the season in a high noon showdown that was moved on Thursday to ESPN2.

The Cincinnati - Tulsa game on Saturday, originally set for ESPN2 has now been postponed due to positive COVID-19 cases at Cincinnati and has been moved to Saturday, Dec. 5 in Tulsa.

ECU head coach Mike Houston says getting off to a fast start with the football would be beneficial against the Midshipmen.

“Much like UCF, especially on the road last year up in Annapolis, they’re a team that really comes out and goes right at their opponent. They were up 14-3 on Temple to start the game. The team that I saw in the Temple game is not the team we all saw against BYU. It’s no surprise to any of us. The staff up there, Coach (Ken) Niumatalolo, they’ve been there for a long time.”

“They started off very, very hot against Temple, very similar to the way they did against us last year. I think the big key for us is trying to get them off rhythm early in the ballgame and try to get some stops,” said Houston, “Try to get them out of that whole second-and-six, second-and-five, third-and-two, first-and-ten, get them off schedule. If you can do that, then you’ve got a shot at getting a stop, getting a punt and getting the ball back for your offense.”

Offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick chimed in with his opinion on the need to get off to a fast beginning against Navy as opposed to tying the football up in an attempt to keep the Navy offense off the field.

“You have to outscore them to win the game. That’s the only way to win the game is to outscore them,” said Kirkpatrick, “You could outscore them 3-0 or 103 to 100 but you have to outscore them. The thing you have to do against this offense is you have to make your possessions count because you’re not going to get very many of them.”

“Last week we got maybe three or four possessions in the first quarter and you’ll get maybe three or four in a half when you play a team like this because the control the ball, they don’t stop the clock very much and unless you can get some turnovers, and they’ll go for it on fourth and short, they’ll keep the ball. So you have to make your possessions count and you can’t turn it over.”

“I think you have to be aggressive. You have to kind of take what the defense gives you a little bit. If they’re playing pass, you’ve got to run it,” said Kirkpatrick, “We just try to be balanced and balanced you have to be able to do either one well. We didn’t throw it as much last week and we scored more points. That was good. The week before we threw it fifty times. You don’t want to throw it fifty because you have to throw it fifty. If you throw it fifty (times) because you want to, I’m great with that. If that’s what they’re giving us, that’s what we’ve got to take.”

No announcements have been made as to who is available or not this week but Houston was unwilling to say if Holton Ahlers had even practiced on Wednesday leading to speculation that he might not be available on Saturday. If it turns out that he is unable to go, Rivals 4-star freshman quarterback Mason Garcia would step into the starting role.

The Pirates could be looking at multiple changes on the offensive side of the ball this week depending on the availability of starters who could be in Covid19 protocol. Coach Houston eluded to that possibility on Tuesday and offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick talked about it on Wednesday.

“Every game you prepare for everybody to be ready to go. That’s what you do and Mason (Garcia) has made a lot of progress I would say the last three weeks or so. He got in a little bit in the Georgia State game. I wish we could have got him in there a little bit earlier and could have gotten a few more snaps out of him,” said Kirkpatrick, “Just that week had he moved ahead to the number two spot. He had an opportunity. Alex Flinn’s arm got a little sore. Alex had to miss about a week of practice. Mason came in and with that work he really started to improve.”

“Last week we had him warming up. We were ready to get him in there and never dreamed that we were going to go on an eight minute drive. Unfortunately we didn’t get the ball back and we were unable to get him in,” Kirkpatrick stated, “I can’t predict the future, but I think he’s getting closer to answering that bell if he gets a call.”

Overall, the Pirates are improving on the offensive side of the football. A lot of their success last week against South Florida was aided by solid ball security that didn’t give the Bulls extra opportunities to break serve.

“I thought we played pretty well considering in the Central Florida game except we turned the ball over,” Kirkpatrick told PirateIllustrated.com, “Ball security was just horrendous. At Georgia State, there were some issues there. I didn’t feel like we came out with the energy and passion. That’s my fault with the offense part of it to make sure they were ready to do that.”

“We had had good practices until Thursday. For some reason we got off track. Didn’t have a great Friday. I didn’t feel like the meetings were good. Last week we played pretty well and we practiced well on Wednesday. We did not practice well on Tuesday. We had to address that and really get after some people,” said Kirkpatrick, “Thursday was the best practice I’ve ever had in thirty some years and on Friday and Saturday you could tell that it had hit them. They were ready to play and I thought we played about as well as you could ask to play.”

“This week is a whole new week. We had a great practice today (Wednesday). We’ve got to have good meetings and practice tomorrow and hope we’re ready to go play. This is a tough opponent. Defensively, they were phenomenal last year on defense and they’ve got eight starters back from last year.”

Kirkpatrick says Jsi Hatfield practiced on Wednesday and should be ready to go this week against Navy after going out early in the first game of the season with UCF. That could pay dividends as Hatfield is considered to be the primary speed merchant on this ECU offense. Having him back is important to ECU’s potential fortunes when they take on Navy on Saturday.

“Today he looked good and he’s catching the ball well so we’ve got to get him into the offense. We talked about getting Snead going and we got him going and Blake going. How are we going to get C.J. (Johnson) going. That was the thing last week. So now there is room to get one more guy going and the more weapons you’ve got, the harder that job is for them.”

When asked if it’s best to rest the team a bit of continue to grind heading into Saturday, Kirkpatrick said it has been a subject of conversation.

“We do want to practice hard and in this program that is the culture that we’re going to go by, but we have had some discussions as a coaching staff about the team that is freshest will have the best chance to win,” Kirkpatrick told PI, “It is going to be a physical game. I don’t know that we have to be at our fastest. That would be to our advantage against them, so we are being smart. Just cut back some of the periods and some of the reps. We’re such a young team it’s not as easy to do that because they need the practice and need to see those looks.”

“It’s an early game. That’s another big factor. You have a little bit less rest so you have to maybe dial it back on Thursday and Friday when you play at noon.”

Stay tuned for more as coverage of Navy week coverage continues here on PirateIllustrated.com.