Rice brings familiar approach

Undersized, hustling Owls looking for first victory

College Football

Navy notebook

September 22, 1999|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Navy may believe it's looking into a mirror image on Saturday.

Its winless opponent, Rice, runs virtually the same offense, depends on guts rather than overpowering size, and plays until the final whistle. That sounds like a perfect description of the Midshipmen.

"They're probably as good an 0-3 team as there is in the country," said Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie. "They fight you to the very end with very hard-nosed guys who will not quit. It'll be whose will won't give in and can keep it up for four quarters."

Like Navy, the Owls also run an option offense that is predicated on quickness and deception. Like Navy, they have played a tough early-season schedule that has included losses to Houston, Michigan and Texas (combined 8-2 record).

"Rice is a little more power oriented and they're a face-blocking type of team," said Weatherbie.

"Hopefully, we've learned some lessons about ourselves that will help us prepare for this one," said Rice coach Ken Hatfield. "We've played well in spots, but we haven't gotten that win yet."

The game is a big one for a 1-2 Navy team that wasted a stalwart defensive effort in a 14-10 loss last week to Boston College. The offense sputtered at crucial times and on the one occasion the defense yielded, the game was on the line.

"I think everyone on the defense was thinking about that last drive," said Midshipman nose guard David Ryno. "If we would have held them like we had all day, we'd have won. It was disappointing."

Big crowd expected

For its home opener, Rice is expecting a near-sellout crowd at 70,000-seat Rice Stadium.

The game is to be dotted with festivities, including a pre-game flyover, post-game fireworks, an appearance by Mary Lou Retton, honorary chairperson for the charity "Pennies for Playgrounds" and an appearance by The Kingsmen of "Louie, Louie" fame.

"We understand that 54,000 tickets have already been sold. The national reputation of Navy is going to help us with what will be a great crowd," said Hatfield.

Looking for offense

Weatherbie is hoping for much better offensive production -- from the standpoint of points.

"We just didn't play up to our capabilities," said the coach. "We didn't convert on third down [1 of 13]. And we've got to improve from the 20-yard line going in. A lot of times we came up short and we have to find out why."

One answer might be the shortage of passes. Navy attempted only 12 against Boston College, most of them in predictable situations.

"We didn't throw as much as we should on first and second down," Weatherbie admitted. "But we were trying to keep their offense off the field."

The absence of wide receiver Harry Spencer (fracture in the back) is one problem. That leaves only Travis Williams as a deep threat for quarterback Brian Broadwater.

Turf battle

The game is Navy's second on artificial turf, and the players aren't exactly looking forward to it.

"I've still got turf burns from two weeks ago [at Kent]," said Ryno. "And I hear that Rice doesn't have the nicest turf."

"It doesn't make any difference whether it's turf or grass," said slotback John Vereen (Severn School). "Except for the turf burns."

Miscellaneous

Navy won the last meeting with Rice in Annapolis, 29-17, but has never won at Rice Stadium. The last visit was in 1992 when Rice won, 27-22, in a game delayed more than an hour by severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Sophomore Dan Dawson leads the Owls' defense with 33 tackles. He was the first freshman to top the team in tackles last year with 81. Navy's game at West Virginia on Oct. 2 may be on Big East television. The league will make a decision Monday between that game and Syracuse-East Carolina. Game time will remain at noon.

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