Navy no longer a breather for foes

NAVY FOOTBALL

October 01, 1993|By EARL SCHUBERT

When Tulane University scheduled five 1992 bowl teams, including national champion Alabama, it probably considered playing Navy tomorrow night in New Orleans as an opportunity to lighten up a little.

That was somewhat of a natural reaction even though the Green Wave was the Mids' only victim last year, 20-17. Second thoughts must now prevail.

If the explosive victory last week over a very good Bowling Green team is any yardstick, this Navy team is for real, arriving as a legitimate Division I-A squad.

The manner in which they refused to fold when falling behind, the ferocity of overall play, and the quality of planning and execution reminded old sailors in attendance of past Academy glory days.

One or two early wins do not make a great season, but the startling turnaround in practically all phases of the game certainly raises hopes for the rest of the season.

To bring the Mids' win last week into perspective, just look at other results that day. Seriously comparing strengths of teams as to how they perform against mutual opponents, etc., is mostly ludicrous from week to week. But every once in awhile a reasonable comparison develops, and last Saturday was one.

When undefeated and nationally ranked No. 12 Syracuse edged Cincinnati in the last moments of the game, 24-21, at the Carrier Dome two weeks after Cincinnati was clobbered by Bowling Green, the Mids look pretty good.

Tulane's only loss to the Mids in a seven-game series that began with a 21-21 tie in 1949 was last year in Navy's next-to-last home game. The tie in 1949 was practically a successful outcome after the Mids had lost to Southern California, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Penn and Army.

Tulane is led by Buddy Teevens, regarded as one of the outstanding young coaches in the nation after turning Dartmouth around in 1990 and 1991. Many have questioned his decision to accept the Tulane job with its horrific schedule and stiff recruiting competition in the New Orleans area.

But he has made the Green Wave competitive, losing a tough one in the opener to Alabama, 31-17, stumbling at Rice, 34-0, beating William & Mary, 10-0, and dropping last week's game to Peach Bowl loser Mississippi State, 36-10.

They have been competing with some of the biggest and best, so they hold no particular fear of the Naval Academy on Homecoming Day.

Strong-armed Craig Randall, a transfer from Michigan, along with returnee Billy Duncan are the passing threats, with wide receiver Will Ursin the main target. Tailback Joe Perry and redshirt fullback Jerald Sowell are the leading ground gainers. Sowell had a 98-yard touchdown gallop at Alabama.

Defensively, the Green Wave is still comparatively weak, the secondary is small, slow and vulnerable to big plays. Ten incoming recruits who played defensive back in high school last year already are playing.

Trying to pick a Navy star of the game last week would be a difficult task. Where do you start?

The offensive line, led by Max Lane, which directly contributed to quarterback Jim Kubiak's 28 completions in 34 attempts? Kubiak? Fullback Brad Stramanak's clutch touchdown in the final quarter? The indomitable Javier Zuluago, who seems to be in on every defensive line play? The pass receiving of Kevin Hickman, Damon Dixon, Jason Van Matre and Jimmy Screen? Or Chris Hart, whose interception on his own 5-yard-line with a minute to play sealed the victory? I unabashedly select the whole team.

Next week is the really big one as versatile, well-drilled Air Force thunders into town for the 1:30 p.m. start at Navy Marine Corps Stadium. It will be a sellout.

However premature, thoughts of defeating Air Force and Army for the Commander In-Chiefs Trophy and a Liberty Bowl bid for the first time since Navy's four-consecutive-year ownership that ended in 1981 naturally arise around The Yard.

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