Whatever it takes to defend Ward
By Ronnie Woodward
The Daily Reflector
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo provided a good one-liner Monday during the American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference when asked about facing Houston and quarterback Greg Ward Jr. this week.
As expected, Ward has been prolific and the undefeated Cougars are rolling, ranked No. 6 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll. Niumatalolo joked that his squad, which was 3-0 until a 28-14 loss to Air Force on Saturday, might try using more than 11 players on defense.
“Well, we’re trying to petition to the NCAA if we can play with 15 guys on the field,” he said. “(Ward) is just good and nobody has been able to slow him down. … He was a really good player last year and he’s even better this year because it seems like he’s more patient in the pocket.”
Ward accounted for five touchdowns, three passing and two rushing, in a 42-14 win over Connecticut on Thursday night. He has eight passing TDs and five rushing scores this season.
“You are not going to stop him and it’s not going to happen, so you want to make sure your players don’t get frustrated,” UConn coach Bob Diaco said. “He’s going to have his few plays, but you have to make sure they are with his legs and you don’t pull yourself out of (pass) coverage to go try and stop him.”
In a rematch of last year’s AAC championship game, the Cougs are a 17-point favorite versus Navy.
Central Florida won coach Scott Frost’s league debut on Saturday, upsetting East Carolina 47-29 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium ahead of this week’s game against Tulane.
The Knights (3-2) finished with a 217-33 advantage in rushing yards. ECU ran it 32 times, and its leading rusher was quarterback Philip Nelson with 15 yards on 10 attempts.
“I told the guys before the game that I thought the most physical team would win, and it was a battle for a long time,” Frost said. “I think ECU is a good team. It just made some mistakes at key times. ... It was a combination of their mistakes and us being able to capitalize on them and then us finishing some drives running the ball.”
The Pirates (2-3) were without one of their best defensive linemen versus the run, senior Demetri McGill, because of an injury he suffered the previous week at Virginia Tech. Pirate coach Scottie Montgomery said he thought his defense played well early against UCF, but later was put in difficult situations, mainly because of ECU turnovers.
Late to the party
Some American teams have played two league games, yet Memphis (3-1) and Tulsa (3-1) are 0-0 in the conference.
As part of three AAC games on ESPN networks, Memphis hosts Temple on Thursday night and Tulsa hosts SMU on Friday night.
“I did like the way our guys competed (in a 48-28 loss at Mississippi on Saturday), even though the game didn’t end up the way we sought out to,” Memphis coach Mike Norvell said. “It was a learning experience, and now we have to turn around to play our conference opener against a fantastic opponent here at home. It’s a short turnaround, so we have to continue to improve and get ready to play.”
Contact Ronnie Woodward at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.