ANNAPOLIS -- When last seen in these parts, the wishbone was a plodding offense used by Navy that was better at putting fans to sleep than producing wins.
Navy fans will get another look at that offense tomorrow, when Air Force displays its wishbone against the Midshipmen at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (1:30 p.m.). And if the Falcons are able to run the offense as well as they have in their first six games, it should give the locals a better appreciation of what the wishbone can accomplish.
On the strength of the option, Air Force (5-1) is third in the nation in rushing offense (337), behind Nebraska and Army. The Falcons were at their running best in last week's 51-28 win over Wyoming, gaining 651 yards (fourth on the all-time Air Force list).
For Navy (0-4) -- not strong on defense -- that can only mean problems.
"It's a big game," said Navy coach George Chaump. "A victory over Air Force, who we haven't beaten [since 1981], would probably be the medicine our team needs more than anything."
The remedy Navy needs most would be a bandage -- to cover the holes that keep opening on defense. Opponents have averaged235.3 yards on the ground and 191.8 through the air, a balance that has doomed Navy in its four losses. Air Force has completed just 17 of 45 passes for an average of 92 yards a game, but the wishbone alone figures to give Navy's defense fits.
"You have to commit so many players to each side of the ball, and it stabilizes your defense," Chaump said. "You have men committed to three offensive players on each side, with five men left in the middle. If you have the right personnel, it's a clever
offense because it commits the defense to a lot of responsibilities."
Running the offense this year is Rob Perez, a senior who was recruited by Navy. Perez, who has a 9-3 record as a starter, rushed for a career-high 156 yards against Wyoming.
"He has more confidence, and when you do that, you exhibit more physical ability," Chaump said of Perez. "He's developed into an outstanding quarterback. His strength is his running, his strength is his decision-making, and his strength is leading the wishbone offense. And he can throw the football, if they make that decision. He's the ideal wishbone quarterback."
With last week's open date, Navy has had two weeks to prepare for Air Force. And, Chaump said, the team has needed every bit of it.
"We had an extra week to prepare for this, and I wish I had another," Chaump said. "The time off is important playing a team with a different offensive approach.
"We just needed the break. Not physically, but psychologically we had to regroup. You lose four ballgames, you welcome some time off. Time is that great big healer. You forget the negative things that happened."
The game is the first in the competition for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, which earns the winner of the round-robin competition among the three service academies a trip to the Liberty Bowl (if they have a representative record).
Air Force has won the title two years in a row, and appears to be the front-runner again this season. Navy would like nothing better than to take the trophy it hasn't won since 1981.
"The Commander-in-Chief's Trophy is at stake, and that would be nice to salvage," Chaump said. "I would like to salvage it with more than two wins. I don't want the thing to come in too tarnished."
More traffic, more tickets
Those planning to attend tomorrow's football game between Navy and Air Force at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis are advised to allow extra time to get to the 1:30 p.m. game.
Home games against Air Force traditionally have been Navy's biggest draw, and a crowd of 35,000 is expected. The annual United States Sailboat Show is also going on in Annapolis and, with construction on Route 50, police have issued a travel advisory.
Heavy traffic is expected, and police are urging motorists to take alternate routes. Visitors to the boat show will not be allowed to park at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium tomorrow. Additional parking for the boat show will be at Germantown Elementary School and Bates Junior High School.
In anticipation of the big crowd, an additional 4,000 seats have been added to the stadium. For information on the remaining seats, call 1-800-US4-NAVY.