Mids pick up the pieces for 1993


December 11, 1992|By EARL SCHUBERT

It is so easy for armchair quarterbacks to regard the long lis of legitimate misfortunes experienced by the Navy football team this past season as alibis for the horrendous 1-10 record.

But a realistic and fair examination of the season-long developments reasonably reveals that this Mid squad had to be one of the most snake-bit of all time.

As a seemingly endless stream of serious injuries to key personnel kept happening throughout the season, continuous offensive and defensive position adjustments became a necessity. In a number of instances, the players had to learn new positions in a matter of days.

Already outweighed in game after game at position after position, this increasingly became a handicap as the coaches and the team struggled to adjust to opponent strengths. It became more difficult as the season progressed, but the spirit and the effort of the team prevented a total collapse.

What else contributed to one of the poorest football seasons at Navy?

Unexpectedly, the Mids' schedule shaped up as one of the toughest in recent years as such formerly less-than-consistent winners as Rice, Vanderbilt, Boston College, Rutgers and North Carolina came up with surprisingly banner years.

Four opponents, including No. 4 Notre Dame, appeared in the nation's Top 25. Four of the nation's top seven running backs were met, as well as three of the top-rated quarterbacks.

And the first-line starters at the three major academies are thin in numbers as compared with the better teams in America, and when Navy loses its first three quarterbacks and four of its best runners early in the season, it's a shock.

Yet, the Mids actually lost the Commander-In-Chiefs Trophy by only three points -- two to Air Force and one to West Point. Yes, it was a bizarre season.

Still, Navy shot itself in the foot so many times this year that all cannot be blamed on circumstances.

Fumbles at crucial times, particularly in the last quarter against Army, inconsistent offensive continuity, missed assignments, questionable play calls, poor defense against the pass, inability to score inside the 20 and placing too much of the offense on the shoulders of Jason Van Matre (an excellent runner, but questionable passer) all backfired at critical moments, leading to frustrating losses.

There were, however, a number of exciting and encouraging developments. The play of linebacker Javier Zuluaga, Bob Kuberski at defensive tackle and Chad Chatlos and Chris Hart in the defensive secondary was All-East caliber. Fullback Duke Ingraham and center Steve Palmer closed out their Navy careers in fine fashion on offense.

The familiar cry "wait until next year" has real merit this time. The squad was loaded with sophomores, juniors and a number of plebes, all of whom saw extended action this year and acquired valuable experience.

As the team began to gel toward the end of the season as the injured returned and its potential unfolded, Mid supporters could not help but be encouraged for 1993. Navy will play interesting new opponents such as Southern Methodist, Louisville, Colgate and Eastern Illinois. Virginia, Tulane, Air Force, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Army and Bowling Green return to the schedule.

With experienced players such as Kevin Hickman, Blair Sokal, Dan Pidgeon, Max Lane, Tom Pritchard, Van Matre, Billy James, Clevon Smith, Lionel Hines, Mike Jefferson, Jimmy Screen and kickers Tim Rogers and Brian Schrum on offense and David Shaw, Zuluaga, Chris Beck, Grover Favors, Steve Lipsey and Reginal Williams on defense, the Mids appear ready to take off. In addition, the quarterback problem should be solved with the return of the injured Jim Kubiak and this year's backup Tony Solliday.

It certainly appears that if Navy football is ever going to break out of the embarrassing slump it has been in since 1982, the 1993 season offers the best opportunity.

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