Mids' defense continues to improve

Next test is 4-1 Rice, stingy with turnovers

Navy notebook

College Football

October 10, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

After the worst defeat in more than 12 decades of football a month ago, Navy needed to address two major shortcomings.

First, the offense had to improve, sustaining drives long enough to give the defense rest and scoring often enough to keep the team in the game.

That problem was rectified by the return of quarterback Brian Madden, whose command, presence and skill have energized the entire roster.

Second, the defense had to prevent opponents from driving all over it and to find some big playmakers who could halt the other team's momentum.

In the two games since, the Midshipmen have slowed rival attacks, and what remains is to halt them with turnovers.

Improvement was evident in last week's 24-18 loss to Air Force, as Navy made the Falcons punt six times and forced a turnover on a hit by Ryan Hamilton and a fumble pickup by sophomore Andy Sinitiere.

"I think we've gotten better as a unit every game," said linebacker Sinitiere, who has received considerable playing time with co-captain Jake Bowen suffering from a foot injury. "A lot of young guys are growing up."

"We knew Air Force and were practicing against the option," said defensive end Dan Person. "But I think it's more getting used to our own package. I think we're coming together and learning to react without thinking about what we have to do."

With the schedule softening, the timing couldn't be more appropriate for the defense to rise.

Coach Charlie Weatherbie said the team might have been trying too hard, which led to penalties of overaggression (60 yards in personal fouls) and another downturn in turnover ratio (minus-7 for the season).

"This game was a good benchmark to work from," said defensive tackle Michael Wagoner. "We're one or two steps away from doing something good."

It won't be easy forcing more turnovers than this week's opponent, Rice. En route to a 4-1 record, the Owls are plus-7 in turnovers, and two of their four lost possessions came in a rout by Nebraska.

Incentive for Sinitiere

Sinitiere, from Humble, Texas, has a personal reason for winning this week.

"I was on their [Rice's] list," he said of the recruiting period. "But they signed linebackers in front of me. I did want to go there when I was young. Now I feel like I have a little bit of a chip on my shoulder."

Sinitiere said he knows a number of Rice's players, who "are a lot like ours. I can't wait to get out there."

Homecoming

A crowd of 29,000 is anticipated for Navy's homecoming game, and tickets figure to be available Saturday.

The day will feature the honoring of the 1981 team. Navy was 7-4-1 that season, losing to Ohio State in the Liberty Bowl, 31-28.

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