Van Matre keeps options open Versatile Mid fits back into QB role

October 22, 1992|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

Two months ago, when Navy players still had high expectations for this season, Jason Van Matre was saying how much he was looking forward to playing one position, after shifting from quarterback to tailback the season before.

"It's great," he said of lining up in the backfield with Jim Kubiak leading the Midshipmen's pro-style offense. "It opens a lot of doors for us because you can't win games in college football running the option. Now, I can concentrate on one position. Running back is going to be the main thing for me -- unless something really bad comes up."

That something bad has happened -- five losses in five games, during which Navy has been forced to use six quarterbacks. With the top two quarterbacks (Kubiak and Brian Ellis) out indefinitely with injuries, the Midshipmen are attempting to get into the win column with Van Matre at quarterback, running -- yes -- the option.

After starting the first two games at tailback, Van Matre made his first start of the season at quarterback in the 40-0 loss to Rutgers. Van Matreas shown improvement against North Carolina and Air Force -- two games that Navy had chances to win in the fourth quarter.

"I'm getting more used to it and I'm kind of enjoying it," said Van Matre, who has thrown touchdown passes of 63 and 31 yards. "I sense things progressing a little bit. But I still have a long way to go."

Van Matre admits that he needs to improve in an area that is considered his strength -- running the option.

"My passing has gotten better [22 of 41 for 378 yards and two touchdowns], but I have to improve in my decision-making running the option," said Van Matre, who was an all-district free safety at B.T. Washington High School in Pensacola, Fla.

"I looked at the tapes of the last game [18-16 loss to Air Force] and I didn't kick it out to the pitch man at the times on several plays -- if I do, the guy scores."

Van Matre's self-criticism aside, he at least has been able to help Navy get on the scoreboard -- something the Mids didn't do until the final quarter of their fourth game.

"It takes time to get into the swing of things," coach George Chaump said of Van Matre. "Because of necessity, he has improved as much as anyone could in a three-week span."

And the way he has made the transition has earned Van Matre, a junior economics major, the respect of his teammates.

"Jason is a guy that everybody looks up to," said fullback Cleavon Smith, who has started the last three games. "The spirit and the challenge in the huddle hasn't changed with him stepping in."

Now the Midshipmen have to see if the bottom line -- winning -- can change. The Air Force game was close -- and should have been won by the Midshipmen if a fumble would have been called against an Air Force player (the officials last week agreed it was a missed call), before a game-winning field goal in the final minute.

"We needed to regroup because that was a tough loss to swallow," Van Matre said. "That was a real tough call and everybody was down. There's nothing we can do about it now. We have to put it behind us and just go out and play."

Van Matre is hoping the winning begins on Saturday against Delaware, the only Division I-AA team on Navy's schedule. And now that he's the quarterback, Van Matre no longer feels a team running an option offense is incapable of winning.

"Our defense is playing well, and once the offense gets on the same page with them we're going to be all right," Van Matre said. "I still have a goal of a winning season. We just have to go out and play like we know how."

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