Navy charts new course on the ground Revived running game has Mids closing in on .500

November 16, 1995|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

Last year, Navy running backs ran about as effectively as infantrymen stuck in quicksand, gaining a total of 613 net yards and averaging an anemic 1.9 yards per carry.

The Midshipmen, looking to even their 1995 record at 5-5 against visiting Tulane on Saturday, already have more than tripled last season's rushing statistics with 2,111 yards and a respectable 4.5 average.

Being able to move the ball consistently on the ground has made Navy competitive and produced upsets of SMU and Duke, plus a mild surprise last week in knocking Division 1-AA Delaware from the unbeaten ranks, 31-7.

Of course, a change in the offense has much to do with the huge gains in rushing yardage.

Under George Chaump last year, the Mids employed a T formation featuring the strong arm of record-breaking quarterback Jim Kubiak and talented receivers Damon Dixon, Kevin Hickman and Mike Jefferson, who gained 2,433 passing yards.

But Kubiak also threw 17 interceptions, and when the air game stalled, Navy quickly fell behind and had to abandon all pretense of running the ball.

Opposing teams all but dared Navy to run against them. Aside from a 73-yard sprint by Jefferson in the season finale against Army, there was only one rush longer than 25 yards.

This season, new coach Charlie Weatherbie stressed from the first spring drill that the team would have to run the ball 60 percent of the time in order to control the clock against more talented teams.

In offensive coordinator Paul Johnson's intricate spread offense, slotbacks are used primarily as blockers and the quarterback's first option is to run.

Freshman Chris McCoy had great success early in the season, rushing for 273 yards in the 33-2 opening-game upset of SMU, including a 72-yard sprint.

When McCoy faltered in mid-season, Weatherbie turned to Ben Fay, and the sophomore from Texas, noted more for his passing than his fancy footwork, surprised everyone with a dazzling first-half performance of running the ball against Notre Dame.

Fay followed up Saturday by rushing for 119 yards against Delaware and broke the game open early in the third quarter with a darting 73-yard run.

"Ben doesn't have great speed, and I don't expect him to break a lot of 70-yard runs," said Weatherbie. "But he has a knack for making people miss tackles."

Weatherbie said the running game has come into its own the past few weeks after sputtering in mid-season and being totally closed down in a 14-0 loss to Virginia Tech on Oct. 7. "The system the players used last year compared to what they're doing now is like night and day," he said.

"You think you can get things done in the spring, but you first have to go through this period of trial and error. The linemen are getting better with their blocking assignments every week."

Navy has four backs -- McCoy (617 yards), Nelson (344), Tim Cannada (308) and Fay (225) -- who have gained more yards running than last year's team leader, Monty Williams (215).

More impressive is that nine backs have ripped off runs of 24 or more yards, with several long gainers coming on end-around plays or forward pitches. The Mids will need to control the clock against a late-blooming Tulane team that scored 40 points in losing to Rutgers, 45-40, last Saturday.

The Green Wave (2-8), featuring only 11 seniors, has come to life under the leadership of freshman quarterback Shaun King, who passed for 372 yards against Rutgers and has 953 for the season.

"This year, the difference in winning and losing has been a matter of three or four plays," said Tulane coach Buddy Teevens. "Last year, it was three or four quarters. We just have to learn how to finish games."

Navy's top rushers

1994

Name .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Yds .. Avg .. Lng

1. Monty Williams . .. .. 215 .. 2.9 .. 18

2. Patrick McGrew . .. .. 171 .. 2.4 .. 19

3. Omar Nelson . .. .. .. 170 .. 3.0 .. 13

4. Michael Jefferson . .. 167 .. 7.0 .. 73

1995

Name .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Yds .. Avg .. Lng

1. Chris McCoy . .. .. .. 617 .. 4.4 .. 72

2. Omar Nelson . .. .. .. 344 .. 3.7 .. 18

3. Tim Cannada . .. .. .. 308 .. 4.5 .. 33

4. Ben Fay .. .. .. .. .. 225 .. 2.8 .. 73

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