Mids aim to clear the air vs. Texas Tech

Success in Houston Bowl depends on how well Navy plays Raiders' QB Symons

College Football

December 29, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON - To defend successfully against the air show Navy is going to be subjected to in the Houston Bowl will require a coordinated effort by all segments involved in the plan.

The defensive line must apply some pressure. The linebackers must be mobile and alert. The secondary must be ready to take on a lot of heat.

The defensive coaches must vary their approaches. Navy's offense must be resourceful, secure the ball and not concede favorable field position.

And the entire team must be willing to concede that completely stopping the nation's No. 1 passer, Texas Tech's B.J. Symons, and his fleet-footed fleet of receivers is unrealistic.

It's going to be a monumental challenge.

"They've got great athletes. You can't take that from them," said Navy cornerback Vaughn Kelley. "No doubt this is the best team we have played. So, we have to exercise a lot of discipline."

Symons has passed for 5,336 yards and 48 touchdowns in 12 games, leading the Red Raiders to an NCAA-best 584.6 yards of total offense per game and a third-best 42.8 points per game. He has had two 600-yard games and four 500-yard games. His small but quick and elusive array of receivers has 465 catches.

Fortunately for the Midshipmen, the shift to a 3-4 defense this season, adding a linebacker to the mix, has increased their speed on the field.

Navy's defensive coordinator, Buddy Green, has devised a scheme that will try to prevent his cornerbacks from being placed in too many 1-on-1 situations, put emphasis on getting physical with the small receivers at times and force Symons to throw more quickly than he wants to, though he's known for an already-quick release.

"They throw so fast," said Green, "so the line is crucial. We must get a pass rush, get close. That's as important as actually getting to the quarterback."

Safeties and cornerbacks will be expected to prevent their opponents from getting behind them because six points is almost inevitable when that happens.

"We've got to make sure that we keep everything in front of us, whether it's a deep ball or an underneath pass," said Green. "And we'll mix it up so we don't isolate the corners on the deep one very often."

Texas Tech has produced 100 plays of 20 yards or more this season, including 71 via passes. Navy must eliminate that ability - or at least minimize it. There will be times when the Midshipmen employ five defensive backs to try to counteract the big-play threat.

Controlling the ball on offense is also important to Navy, which must erode the clock and limit Texas Tech's offensive opportunities.

The Midshipmen have converted nearly 60 percent of their third-down chances in the last seven games, a trend that must continue if they are to shorten the game.

"We can't worry about how long we hold it," said head coach Paul Johnson. "But we want to score every time we've got it."

Last month against Tulane, which, like Texas Tech, features a high-powered attack led by a strong-armed quarterback (J.P. Losman), Navy's defense was exceptional. The unit held the Green Wave to 10 points until the final play of the game.

"We were fortunate that we were able to get some turnovers against them," said Green.

Navy also jumped to an early 14-0 lead against the Green Wave, a factor that played a big role in the 35-17 win.

"We've got to start early in any ballgame," Green explained. "If you have success early, it tends to continue."

"If they have to catch the ball, I'd rather have them catch it, than get behind me," added Kelley. "On paper, it says we're fourth [nationally against the pass], but that's just paper. We're happy to be up there. It shows we've been doing it all year. But that won't help us now. We've got to do it again."

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