Holtz stirs Navy, rivalry Irish coach gives offense offhand slap

November 02, 1995|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The most one-sided, lifeless rivalry in college football got a whiff of ammonia yesterday.

Notre Dame's Lou Holtz, a coach who never publicly disparages an opponent, stopped just short of calling Navy's spread attack a high school offense.

His comments, made in a teleconference call with reporters at the Naval Academy, might have helped revive the somnolent series, which resumes with its 69th game Saturday in South Bend, Ind.

During the teleconference, Holtz was asked to clarify a statement he made earlier in the week, suggesting the Navy offense incorporates elements of the wishbone offense and the run-and-shoot passing game.

"If you're in high school, or something like that, it's an exciting offense," Holtz said, "because you have the wishbone running game, which is based on execution, and you have the run-and-shoot offense, which is the most difficult to defend."

Then Holtz was asked if he was calling the Navy offense a high school offense.

"Oh, no, no, no," he said. "It's very difficult to recruit at a place like Notre Dame and other schools, where you get a quarterback who wants to go into the pros. Whereas in high school, an individual is just worried about winning; at the academy, you're worried about winning. . . . It's mind-boggling how you could draw that assumption."

Holtz's mind wasn't the only one boggled. There was also first-year Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie, who installed an option offense that features two wide receivers, two slotbacks and a fullback. While he played down the statements from Holtz, it was clear he had taken, well, offense.

That became evident when he talked about Notre Dame's increased use of fullback Marc Edwards the past two weeks.

"They've started running some option principles with him, blocked people down and handed off to him on an inside veer or outside veer path," Weatherbie said. "So they've gone back to some stuff that Lou would like to do if he was in high school."

Touche.

A reawakened Navy team might be just what the longest continuous series needs. In a rivalry that dates to 1927, Notre Dame leads, 58-9-1, and has won 31 consecutives games. If the Irish win again Saturday, they tie the NCAA record for consecutive wins over one opponent in an uninterrupted series. That record belongs to Oklahoma, which beat Kansas State 32 straight times from 1937 to 1968.

Navy's last triumph came in 1963, when quarterback Roger Staubach inspired a 35-14 verdict. Weatherbie wasn't into history yesterday, though.

"Most of these guys are less than 20 years old; how do they know about what happened 31 years ago?" he said. "I don't think that has anything to do with 1995."

The Midshipmen might not know what happened in 1963, but they distinctly remember what unfolded in the closing minutes of last year's game. The Irish, winning by 30 at home, threw a touchdown pass with 38 seconds left, albeit by their fourth quarterback of the day.

That score was set up by a fake punt and 29-yard run by Edwards to the Navy 10. The final was 58-21. And you don't have to jog the memory of safety Joe Speed, who was on the field at the time.

"Yes, we were down by a large margin," said Speed, who played at Dundalk High. "Maybe they had something in mind they wanted to do. Or maybe it was an act of aggression to our team."

Did Speed believe it to be an act of aggression?

"At the time I did," he said.

Holtz apologized to Navy in a letter after the game. Yesterday, he called it a "dumb, dumb decision on my part. It was a very immature decision and I regret it drastically."

As for Navy's offense, Weatherbie said sophomore quarterback Chris McCoy will start again this week, but allowed that junior Ben Fay probably will play. Fay relieved McCoy two weeks ago and delivered a 20-14 win over Villanova. Navy had last week off.

Now the Midshipmen must face the Irish and that ungodly 31-year streak.

"I don't think we have to play like Superman," Weatherbie said. "I think we can go out and play the way we're capable of playing: Take care of the ball, not give up the big play, do fundamentally what we can do up front on both sides of the ball.

"I think we've got a great opportunity. If I didn't think we had a great opportunity, we wouldn't go play the game. I'd call and cancel it."

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