By cutting turnovers, Mids increase victories

3 interceptions thrown ranks sixth in country

Navy notebook

October 21, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

While Navy coach Paul Johnson endured an inaugural 2-10 season last year, nothing infuriated him more than the Midshipmen's irresponsibility with the football. And the way Johnson sees it, nothing better defines Navy's dramatic turnaround in 2003 than how well the Mids are taking care of it.

A year ago, Navy (5-2) was a miscue waiting to happen, both on offense and special teams. By the season's end, it had committed 35 turnovers, including 25 fumbles.

A year later, Navy has produced just 10 turnovers. On Saturday, in its homecoming game against Delaware, Navy will attempt to go three consecutive games without a turnover for the first time in school history.

"It's a big difference. If you could pick one stat to point to [to explain Navy's improvement], that would be it," said Johnson, whose only two victories last year were turnover-free. "I think [the players] understand the value of it. They've seen it firsthand.

"There's going to be times when somebody lays a helmet on [the ball] or it gets tipped. But don't give one away because you've got it like a loaf of bread and somebody punches it out. It's all part of learning how to win."

Navy is off to its best start since going 9-3 and winning the Aloha Bowl in 1996, and is coming off a 38-6 rout over Rice that marks its first three-game winning streak in six years and its second straight victory on the road.

The Mids are doing so many things right. They continue to lead the nation in rushing and are getting outstanding play from quarterback Craig Candeto. Their defense has forced 18 turnovers, ranks fifth in the nation against the pass, and just denied an opponent a touchdown for the first time since 1996. Their offense has converted 62.7 percent of its third-down chances during the three-game winning streak.

Navy also is doing its opponents no favors. The Mids have thrown just three interceptions, which ranks sixth in the country. Navy has lost seven fumbles, but none during its winning streak.

Transfers boost Delaware

Delaware (7-0) is ranked third in Division I-AA and has seven transfers from Division I-A schools on its roster. They include quarterback Andy Hall, who came from Georgia Tech, and wide receiver David Boler, who originally played at Southern California.

Hall has thrown for 1,361 yards and 15 touchdowns, with just two interceptions in 161 attempts, making him fifth-best in I-AA in pass efficiency (163.24).

Boler, more valuable in the absence of top receiver Brian Ingram (knee injury, out for two more games), has averaged 12.7 yards a catch. Three of his 18 receptions have gone for touchdowns.

The Blue Hens, who are 5-0 in the Atlantic 10, are averaging 39.4 points.

Plebe power

The freshmen just keep on coming, and Navy dressed a record 18 at Rice. Last week's hero was free safety DuJuan Price, who made his first start and led the team with 12 tackles, intercepted a pass and broke up another.

Price was inserted into the lineup after fellow plebe Kevin Newsome - who replaced injured Josh Smith two weeks ago at Vanderbilt - was late for a team meeting.

"I was surprised, but I was ready," said Price, who found out about the switch on Thursday. "I've been waiting for an opportunity to play all year. I finally got it, and I wanted to make the best of it."

Et cetera

Johnson said Smith (undisclosed injury), offensive tackle Josh Goodin (knee) and fullback Kyle Eckel (shoulder) will play this week. Eckel played sparingly at Rice. ... Linebacker Ben Mathews (knee), who has missed the past three games, is questionable.

Next for Navy

Matchup: Delaware (7-0) vs. Navy (5-2)

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Radio: WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

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