'Low' Chaump tries to look ahead

December 06, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

The frozen image of Navy freshman Ryan Bucchianeri, looking far too young to be in a college uniform, staring disconsolately at the spot on the turf of Giants Stadium where he had attempted his game-winning field goal in the closing seconds Saturday, was a picture that required no explanation.

"I'm sure it was a classic game that made for great television drama," Navy coach George Chaump said some 30 hours later. "But I would have preferred a different ending. Right now, I'm feeling awfully low."

Chaump had watched his Midshipmen battle back from a 16-0 deficit in the last quarter and drive to the 1-yard line in the closing seconds, only to lose, 16-14, and finish the season 4-7.

For the second straight year, Navy had seen a likely win against its archrival snatched away in the final seconds. Army won the 1992 game in Philadelphia, 29-28, on a 49-yard field goal by Patmon Malcom.

Saturday's defeat was the worst possible ending to a season that had started with considerable promise. Navy won four of its first six games and was seemingly on the way to its first winning season since going 6-5 under Gary Tranquill in 1982.

After a 28-0 loss to Louisville, the Mids played inspired ball to lead Notre Dame 24-17 at halftime, but ultimately were worn down, 58-27. Lopsided losses to Vanderbilt and Southern Methodist followed before Saturday's heart-breaking loss.

It was hardly the way 11 senior starters envisioned their careers ending, especially co-captains Jason Van Matre and Javier Zuluaga.

Chaump, who had his contract extended the week before the Army game, loses all five starters from his offensive line, led by 300-pound tackle Max Lane, who has drawn interest from pro scouts.

In addition to Zuluaga, a linebacker who made 20 tackles against Army, Navy will lose key defensive linemen David Shaw and Stacey Yopp, but Chaump remains optimistic about next season.

The principal reason is the return of quarterback Jim Kubiak, who blossomed as a junior, establishing academy records for completions (248) and yardage (2,753). The Buffalo, N.Y., native completed 62 percent of his passes and threw for 11 touchdowns, one short of the late Alton Grizzard's record set in 1990.

"Kubiak has the best ahead of him," said Chaump. "He would have received more national attention if we'd had a better record. But next year, he should be recognized as one of the best quarterbacks in America."

Kubiak's statistics are even more impressive in view of the fact that, as the season progressed, rival teams all but dared the Mids to run, using six or seven players to defend against the pass.

Despite the loss of Van Matre, who led the Mids with 59 receptions, and Jimmy Screen, a breakaway threat, Chaump believes a fine cast of receivers will remain for Kubiak in 1994.

"We'll be returning Damon Dixon [51 catches], tight end Kevin Hickman [38] and flanker Michael Jefferson [23]," the coach noted.

But Chaump and his staff, who begin extensive recruiting this week, will be looking for running backs with speed, a quality lacking in this year's crop. The Mids averaged only 89.5 yards rushing compared to 250.2 passing yards per game.

Fullback Brad Stramanak, who scored a team-high 10 touchdowns, proved durable, but averaged only 3.7 yards per carry. Senior tailback Billy James did not fulfill his potential until closing out his career with 90 yards on 10 carries against Army.

But the lack of a reliable running game repeatedly hurt the Mids in short-yardage situations. This was dramatically underlined in the closing seconds of the season when they could not punch it in after making a first down on the Army 2-yard line.

"It should never have come down to Bucchianeri's kick," said Chaump.

"But we should have more speed next year. I like some of our plebes -- Omar Nelson and Willie Smith, plus sophomore Monty Williams. The key is rebuilding our front line and strengthening the defense."

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