While Navy simplifies, Air Force adds a wrinkle

October 06, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

Navy football coach George Chaump and his Air Force counterpart, Fisher DeBerry, whose teams meet in Colorado Springs, Colo., Saturday, have taken decidedly different approaches in trying to regain the winning touch this season.

Chaump, saddled by a nine-game losing streak dating back to last October, has tried to simplify his game plan, particularly on defense.

"The best thing to do when you're having problems is to simplify things," he said. "We might have been trying to do too much. We've cut back on about 50 percent of what we were trying to do."

With his defensive line diminished by graduation, Chaump had little choice. And the replacements have shown their inexperience, allowing the opposition an average of 52.2 points in Navy's four lopsided losses this season.

DeBerry, who experienced a rare losing season last fall when his Falcons finished 4-8 and lost for the first time in 11 years to Navy, 28-24, opted to make things more complicated for his wishbone offense. It had become too predictable.

For DeBerry, the choice was easy.

"It's got a lot to do with who is throwing and catching the ball," he said. "For the first time in the last four years, we've got guys who can do these things with consistency. In recent years, we didn't have a quarterback who could hit a barn door with a pass."

Last season, starting Air Force quarterback Desmond Cash completed 38 percent of his passes (30-for-78), had one touchdown pass and seven interceptions. But Cash ran for 875 yards to lead Falcons rushers.

So when DeBerry found a pair of quarterbacks -- senior Preston McConnell and sophomore Beau Morgan -- who could throw with accuracy, it was a simple decision to switch Cash to tailback.

DeBerry has alternated McConnell and Morgan. The revived passing game led to a total of 83 points in consecutive victories over Texas-El Paso (47-7) and San Diego State (36-35), the same team that routed Navy, 56-14, in its opener.

McConnell, who is expected to start Saturday, ran only 36 plays last season, but in spring and fall drills he quickly grasped how to run the offense.

"It's a gamble when you change your offense," said DeBerry, "but our football team has a lot of confidence in Preston McConnell, and so do I.

"He's not going to impress a lot of players with his style, but he gives you what you want in a ball-control offense, and when he sees a seam, he'll take it. His mechanics are excellent, and his judgment is good."

Chaump, who has gone 1-3 against DeBerry, says the Falcons' offense poses more problems than usual.

"Their improved passing game gives them even more options," he said. "Now, they're running double and triple options and traps. It's a real guessing game. Our linemen have to hit moving targets all the time."

The biggest pressure will be on senior strong-side linebacker Shane Halloran, who has played all three linebacking positions as Chaump has tried to plug defensive holes.

"Shane has about five things to worry about on every play they run," said Chaump.

In an effort to keep his Midshipmen fresh in the second half, when the defense was particularly vulnerable against Virginia and Duke, Chaump has tried to keep warmups the day of the game to a minimum, while giving his team extra rest periods on the road.

For Navy (0-4), an upset of Air Force would go a long way to regaining confidence. Air Force (2-3), a 24-point favorite, has won the Commander-in-Chief Trophy, symbolic of supremacy among the service academies, eight of the past 12 years. It had captured the trophy four straight years before last season, when no one could claim it.

NOTES: Navy reserve sophomore split end Ross Scott will be sidelined with a pulled hamstring. Freshman Patrick McGrew will again start at tailback in place of sophomore Omar Nelson, who is nursing a groin pull. . . . The Falcons will be minus offensive tackle Dan Palmer (shoulder) and halfback John Ichiyama, lost for the season after knee surgery. Cash is questionable with a pinched nerve in his shoulder.

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