Great expectations unrealized Despite losing 16 starters, Weatherbie saw a winner

Navy notebook

November 18, 1998|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

After being routed by Notre Dame, 30-0, and dropping to 3-6, Navy is left with trying to salvage its season with games against less-threatening SMU on Saturday and Army on Dec. 5.

This is not what coach Charlie Weatherbie expected after consecutive winning seasons.

"I thought we'd have an opportunity to win seven or eight games and get a bowl bid," he said yesterday. "Looking back, we should have beaten Wake Forest and Rutgers. And we missed some first downs early against Tulane, when they weren't the same confident team they are today.

"Give or take a few games, I think we could easily be 6-3. You have to win the games you're supposed to win and then win a couple that could go either way."

But Weatherbie might have been overly optimistic. The reality was that graduation left him hurting on both sides of the ball with 29 lettermen gone, including 16 starters.

Senior tackle Jason Snider, who will miss the last two games with a bruised spleen, was the only returning starter on defense. And Weatherbie had to break in a new quarterback after record-setting Chris McCoy's departure.

Instead of using the massive rebuilding job as a cop-out, Weatherbie said: "A lot of times, that's where you build character. You find out what the coaches are capable of doing. It brings you back to reality. It makes you hungrier and also work harder."

He has been forced to play more plebes this season than any other time since his arrival at the academy in 1995. At least four have seen considerable playing time, including defensive end Bwerani Nettles, defensive backs Bas Williams and David Hamilton and slotback Dre Brittingham.

"We were forced to do it, particularly in the secondary, where we were short of senior leadership," Weatherbie said. "It has to help us in the long run when these young guys get thrown into the fire against Notre Dame, playing on national TV and in front of 80,000 people."

Weatherbie noted how Williams made a costly mistake against Notre Dame. With Navy trailing 14-0 in the second quarter, Autry Denson fumbled on the Navy 48. Williams pounced on the rolling ball rather than picking it up with a clear field ahead of him.

Even Navy's seniors, like kicker Tom Vanderhorst, have proved inconsistent. Vanderhorst has missed five of his last six field-goal attempts and is 6-for-12 this season, a major disappointment after going 14-for-20 last year.

"He pulled his head up and didn't follow through on the kick he missed in the Notre Dame game," Weatherbie said. "He pretty much coaches himself and knows what he did wrong. But since the Tulane game, he's been inconsistent."

Growing pains

SMU coach Mike Cavan has the same problems as Navy, with the roster weighted with 46 freshmen and sophomores.

The Mustangs (4-7) blew a chance to win their opener against Rice by missing a 24-yard field-goal try with 10 seconds left. The Owls won in overtime, 23-17.

It had a crushing effect on the Mustangs, who dropped their next three, blowing a 41-19 lead to bow to Mississippi, 48-41, in another overtime game.

SMU features an intricate I-formation offense that sophomore quarterback Chris Sanders and freshman understudy Josh McCown struggled with early in the year.

"I take the blame for that," Cavan said. "I threw too much at them. I should have kept it more simple until they felt comfortable."

Weatherbie has won all three meetings with SMU.

Pub Date: 11/18/98

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