At 4-4, Rutgers overachieving Knights, winless in '97, ignore preseason polls, eye revenge against Mids

Navy football notebook

November 04, 1998|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

In the preseason college football poll, Rutgers suffered the ignominy of being ranked 112th and last by Sports Illustrated.

The Scarlet Knights earned this distinction by losing all 11 games last year and allowing an average of 45 points and 479 yards a contest.

But Rutgers coach Terry Shea, in his third year, may have the last laugh. His team carries a 4-4 record into its game with Navy (3-4) in Annapolis on Saturday and has a chance of posting its first winning season since 1992.

"The SI poll didn't light up our team," said Shea, who was told by athletic director Bob Mulcahy yesterday that he'd definitely be brought back next season. "We had a lot of darts thrown at us the past six months, and it has shown a lot of character to work through all the negative comments.

"Our season last year was well-chronicled by everyone from Alaska to SI, so we're feeling a 4-4 season is very solid. We've probably won some games no one gave us a chance to win and our players' self-esteem has grown. But we're not talking about a national championship just yet."

Asked to explain his team's turnaround, Shea said: "As a program starts to mature, the redshirts and true sophomores aren't making as many mistakes."

It took sophomore quarterback Mike McMahon almost half a season last year to learn the intricacies of Shea's West Coast offense, patterned after that of his former mentor, Bill Walsh, at Stanford.

This year, McMahon has completed half of his 198 passes for 1,493 yards and six touchdowns. He is almost certain to test a Navy pass defense that has been burned for 306 yards a game.

"McMahon has been very solid in his decision-making and has a major-league arm," said Shea.

In routing Rutgers, 36-7, last year, the Midshipmen stifled the running game. But Rutgers has displayed more balance this season. Using a two-back offense, sophomore Dennis Thomas has rushed for 410 yards, six more than junior Jacki Crooks.

"Everything still revolves around stopping the run," said Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie, "Then we have to react to their play-action passes."

Rutgers may have more to worry about in the Mids' rejuvenated offense that triggered consecutive, come-from-behind victories over Colgate (42-35) and Boston College (32-31).

All four of the Knights' losses have been lopsided -- 41-14 to BC, 70-14 to Syracuse, 53-17 to Miami and 52-24 to Tulane.

One advantage Rutgers enjoys is having already faced two option teams in Army and Temple. But Shea said Navy's option has more wrinkles.

"Navy has a much more effective passing game than Army or Temple, and they get to the perimeter a lot quicker," he said.

Name game

Navy sophomore offensive tackle Hoot Stahl says his colorful first name has nothing to do with cowboys.

"My father, Ed, played basketball at North Carolina in the '70s," he said. "After graduating, he played for a team in Venice, Italy. When I was born, I was christened Hughes, but that was too hard for the Italian fans to pronounce, so that's how I became 'Hoot.' "

Pub Date: 11/04/98

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