Skaggs' booming punts command national rank

Mid is No. 4, on pace to break school record

Navy notebook

College Football

October 24, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

In this second straight season of dismay for the Navy football team, John Skaggs has stood out like a beacon on a foggy night.

The sophomore from the Florida panhandle has the fourth-best punting average in the nation and is in line for the Ray Guy Award, which goes to the top collegiate punter.

Skaggs seems a tad embarrassed by his sudden success, one of the highlights in this 0-6 Navy season.

"I'm very surprised," said Skaggs, a left-footed kicker who is averaging 45.7 yards per punt. "It's still hard to believe that I'm kicking the ball that far. I still don't think of myself that way. I try to back that thought out of my mind."

With the aid of some perfect snapping by Heath Sanders, Skaggs has not had a punt blocked all season and has not been forced to run or throw the ball.

"There were four of us [striving for the punting job] in spring ball, and I was No. 4," he said. "Every week the depth chart changed, but I was never No. 1 until the week before the first game. It's still hard to realize I'm kicking the ball that far."

Skaggs is 2 yards ahead of the school record for punting average set by Bill Busik in 1941. Barring some misfortune like shanks, he will probably break it because Eric Rolfs is used for the short punts that are designed to fall dead inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

First-half blahs

During the past three defeats, Navy has outscored its foes 33-9 in the second half after falling behind 18-9, 21-6 and 20-0 before the break.

Why the disparity?

"It could be several things," said starting cornerback Clyde Clark. "Maybe it takes us awhile to get the feel of the game. Or maybe we could be caught up in different thoughts [unrelated to football]."

"We've got to be able to give ourselves the opportunity to win in the first half," said coach Charlie Weatherbie. "The big emphasis is on putting two halves together. We need to play 60 minutes, not 30."

Tough Toledo

Striving for the second Navy victory in the academy's past 18 games will not be easy.

This week, the Midshipmen visit a Toledo team that just fell out of the Top 25 because of a 24-20 upset loss at Ball State in which first-year Rockets coach Tom Amstutz said, "We just ran out of time."

Toledo boasts a legitimate pro prospect in tailback Chester Taylor, who leads the nation in scoring, and an elusive and effective quarterback in Tavares Bolden.

Add a defense that has allowed an average of 75 rushing yards, No. 9 nationally, and Navy faces another tough assignment.

"We're thought of as an average type of program, usually by the Minnesotas, Penn States and Purdues," sand Amstutz. "Until they play us."

Within the past four years, Toledo has beaten all three Big Ten schools.

Et cetera

Amstutz was a linebacker coach at Navy in the late '80s. "I really have respect for the Naval Academy. I know what those kids go through," he said. "I'm usually their fan ... except for this week." ... Defensive captain Jake Bowen of Navy may return this week after sitting out more than three games with a sprained foot.

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