Navy puts bowl hopes on line

3-5 Tulane is banged up, but has hurt Mids in past

College Football

November 01, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

One week after playing its most error-prone game in the past month, Navy can not afford a repeat performance if the Midshipmen expect to achieve all of their goals in this turnaround season.

A victory over visiting Tulane today at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium would do numerous good things for the Mids. It would assure them of a non-losing season for the first time since 1997 and would double the amount of Navy victories in the previous three years combined.

Beating the explosive but vulnerable and banged-up Green Wave (3-5) also would rev up Navy's bid for a bowl game invitation, possibly to the Continental Tire or Houston bowls.

The Mids (5-3) would have five wins over Division I-A teams, meaning Navy would need two more victories in its final three games. They include next week's trip to Notre Dame - which has not lost to the academy since John F. Kennedy occupied the White House - followed by the home finale against Central Michigan and the Army game in Philadelphia.

Since Navy is an independent, it must beat one more I-A opponent than teams with conference affiliations, who only need six I-A victories to be bowl-eligible. The Mids opened by beating I-AA Virginia Military Institute, then matched their season high with three turnovers in last week's 21-17 loss to I-AA Delaware.

"That was a major setback, but we still are in position to do some good things," Navy coach Paul Johnson. "We can have a winning season. We can win the Commander in Chief's trophy [for service academies], and we can get ourselves bowl-eligible.

"We don't have a lot of margin for error. If we don't play well, we won't win. It's as simple as that."

Although Navy has dropped three straight to Tulane, which has averaged 47.7 points in those victories, the Mids find themselves in good position to reverse that trend today.

Besides having a home-field advantage, Navy sports the nation's top rushing offense, a defense that has gotten relatively healthy in recent weeks and is facing an injury-depleted Green Wave defense.

Two starters, end Michael Roberts and free safety Joey Dawson, suffered season-ending injuries last week. Sixteen Tulane defenders have been unavailable at some point this season. Things got so thin on the depth chart that linebacker Brandt Quick (78 tackles) was moved to the defensive line.

Tulane has lost four straight and surrendered an average of 49 points. The Green Wave is allowing 244 rushing yards and 491 yards per game overall.

Navy, coming off its second-lowest scoring output of the year, has big-play threat Eric Roberts back at slotback, a week after he left the Delaware game with a sprained ankle. The Mids continue to battle injuries on the offensive line, but if they go back to playing turnover-free, they think they can move the ball on anyone.

"That was a big loss for us last week, and everybody knows it. We can't carry that game over," said quarterback Craig Candeto, who had a hand in all three of Navy's turnovers. "[Tulane] is banged up, but I don't see why they wouldn't come in here thinking they can beat us. They beat us handily last year [51-30]."

This could turn into a shootout. The Green Wave averages 30 points and features a set of skill position players as potent as any the Mids have seen this year.

Quarterback J.P. Losman, a transfer from UCLA, has thrown for 2,153 yards and 23 touchdowns. Running back Mewelde Moore has gained 1,153 yards and scored nine touchdowns. Wide receiver Roydell Williams averages 16.2 yards per catch.

Navy's flexible pass defense, which has limited the big play consistently and ranks third in the nation (143.4 yards per game), could encounter its toughest test yet.

"They've got a great 1-2 punch [in Losman and Moore]. They're legit," Navy free safety Josh Smith said. "But we're definitely not going in with the attitude of let's just slow them down. We think our defense is good enough to shut them down."

Today's game

Tulane (3-5) at Navy (5-3)

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, Annapolis

Time: 1:30 p.m.

TV: CN8

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

Line: Navy by 10

Series: Tulane leads 10-5-1

Last week: Navy lost its bid for a four-game winning streak by losing its homecoming game to Delaware, 21-17. Tulane suffered a 41-9 loss at home to Memphis.

Navy offense vs. Tulane defense: The Green Wave has battled injuries all year, which partly explains its futility. Tulane, led by SS Tra Boger (73 tackles), is allowing nearly 40 points per game. Navy, fresh off one of its weaker efforts, still leads the nation in rushing behind FB Kyle Eckel and QB Craig Candeto, and SB Eric Roberts is back after missing most of the Delaware game with a sprained ankle.

Navy defense vs. Tulane offense: The Green Wave might not be able to stop people, but it can move the ball and score. QB J.P. Losman, RB Mewelde Moore and WR Roydell Williams form an outstanding trio of playmakers. Williams and Moore have combined for more than 1,000 yards receiving. Moore averages nearly 5 yards per carry. Navy ranks third in the NCAA in pass defense, but the Mids have to get pressure on Losman.

Special teams: Navy has a clear edge in the kicking game. K Eric Rolfs has missed only one of six field-goal attempts since taking over for the injured Geoff Blumenfeld. Tulane K Barrett Pepper is 1-for-4. Navy punter John Skaggs (41-yard average) is coming off a rare bad game. Tulane's Fred Smith (23.2-yard average, one TD) is a dangerous kickoff return man.

- Gary Lambrecht

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