Navy may have a bone to pick vs. Akron

November 08, 1990|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Evening Sun Staff

ANNAPOLIS -- Navy football coach George Chaump had a couple of names for it. One was "Operation Deep Freeze." Another was "Arctic Zone Offense."

They were the labels of the wishbone offense tactics the Middies used to roll up 31 points in their 52-31 loss to Notre Dame last week. Since they were so successful -- Navy hadn't scored that many points against the Irish since its last win over them in 1963 -- remaining opponents could very well see more of the same.

Navy (3-5) will travel to Toledo (8-1) Saturday, then entertain Delaware Nov. 17 before taking on Army Dec. 8.

Quite simply, Navy caught the far more talented Irish by surprise. Chaump, long known for his offensive pyrotechnics, dusted off the wishbone attack used for three years by his predecessor, Elliot Uzelac.

"Notre Dame wasn't prepared for it," said Kevin Rogers, Navy's quarterbacks coach. "The wishbone is out of character for George. He throws and has a wide-open offense."

Navy reverted to the wishbone for several reasons. The Middies were coming off a 16-7 loss to a mediocre Division I-AA team, James Madison, and had gotten sacked an unseemly nine times.

"You start to wonder," Rogers said. "And there was Notre Dame on the horizon. If we threw 40 times, we'd be overwhelmed."

Said Chaump, "We didn't want to let the clock stop by passing. We wanted to keep the ball on the ground and have long, sustained drives. And we wanted to utilize quarterback Alton Grizzard's ability to run the option. The first half, it worked to perfection."

With Grizzard rushing for 64 yards on eight carries, and throwing only three passes, Navy was tied at halftime, 10-10. The Middies' first three possessions consisted of 11, 10 and 14 time-consuming plays.

"We had 'em guessing," Grizzard said. "They didn't know if we were going to run the wishbone or our regular plays. We had three years of the wishbone, so it was second nature to me."

"Like riding a bike, you never forget," Rogers said. "Griz was well-schooled in the wishbone."

In its first seven games, no more than 10 percent of Navy's offense was the wishbone, an offense in which the quarterback can hand off inside, pitch outside to a running back, pass on the run or run himself. Mostly, Grizzard ran himself and handed off to tailback Jason Pace.

Rogers estimates that 90 percent of Navy's plays were wishbone against Notre Dame, or at least gave the appearance of being wishbone. The Middies used an unbalanced line with both tackles, 279-pound Michael Davis and 267-pound Greg Hlatky, elbow to elbow on the strong side.

"That was to combat Notre Dame's size, putting those two against lighter defensive ends and linebackers," Rogers said. "For once, we had a mismatch in our favor.

"Notre Dame wasn't used to wishbone blocking, either. Their guys, with ideas of getting pro contracts, don't like chop blocks at the knees. It's difficult for any team to prepare for the wishbone in one week. It's tougher still to do it at halftime or on the sideline."

It did not escape Chaump's attention that Notre Dame had two freshmen in its defensive secondary. They were so occupied by the complexities of the wishbone that Grizzard was able to complete two long passes to tight end Dave Berghult, one for a 19-yard touchdown and another for 44 yards.

"The freshmen were totally lost," Rogers said. "That's why those bombs to Berghult worked."

Neither Chaump nor Rogers expects to be anointed as a genius simply because Navy cleverly used the element of surprise to score 31 points against Notre Dame. Thirty-one wasn't enough, they note ruefully.

"It was," Rogers said simply, "a gamble that worked."

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