Johnson reminds Mids their slate's clean

Team told to leave 0-10 in past, think only of SMU

College Football

August 31, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

Paul Johnson has spent so much time talking about the past lately, you'd think he was teaching history instead of football at the Naval Academy.

But no more, he says. When Navy takes on Southern Methodist tonight in Dallas, all the talk of losing streaks needs to be put to rest. For good.

"Our staff, and this football team, hasn't lost a game," said Johnson, who coached at Georgia Southern last year. "I'm not going to take any baggage from what happened in the last couple of years and these kids shouldn't have to, either. That's behind them, that's over with, and we're starting new."

SMU knows the feeling. Despite having one of the better defenses in the country last season, the Mustangs went 4-7, and that cost Mike Cavan his job as coach.

Phil Bennett, who served as the defensive coordinator at Kansas State the previous three seasons, has taken over, hoping to accomplish a task not much different than the one facing Johnson: turn a perennial loser into a winner.

"Playing a team with a new coach is rather challenging because you don't really know what to expect," Bennett said. "I guess we're both faced with the same problem, so we'll see what happens."

Navy's main problem, however, won't be schematics as much as speed - the Mids don't have a lot, and SMU does. Navy's spread option doesn't require a ton of speed to be effective, but slowing down the Mustangs' offense will be a much more difficult task.

SMU will start a freshman quarterback in Tate Wallis, but any growing pains he has should be helped by his running game.

Running back ShanDerrick Charles was one of the top freshmen in the country last season, running for 860 yards in just eight games, including a 243-yard effort against San Jose State and a 212-yard game against Texas-El Paso.

Keylon Kincaid, a junior who ran for 421 yards, and Kris Briggs, a senior who rushed for 828 yards in 2000, are also back.

"Offensively, I know they have some outstanding running backs," Johnson said. "We fully expect them to be a really good football team. I think their record last year was a little bit deceiving. They lost a ton of close games."

Navy lost a few close games last year, too, but there wasn't much deceptive about the Mids' 0-10 record.

Johnson's spread-option offense, which broke numerous school records when he was the offensive coordinator in 1995 and '96 under Charlie Weatherbie, should help change things.

Sophomore fullback Kyle Eckel has looked good in the preseason, and quarterback Craig Candeto and slotback Tony Lane are two of Navy's best athletes. Each should see the ball plenty.

SMU will look to middle linebacker Vic Viloria to clog things up. Viloria was a first-team All-WAC linebacker last year, and is being billed as a potential All-America player.

Navy is buzzing with excitement right now, and is determined to prove people wrong when they say the Mids will once again be one of the worst teams in college football. But Johnson knows that could be short-lived.

"Anybody can talk," he said. "It's time to start walking the walk. You can talk all you want to, but until you do something, nobody wants to listen."

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