New punter gaining a foothold

Shuey hurt by bad snaps

offense-defense balance helps fuel Mids' 3-0 start

Navy notebook

College Football

September 24, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

As Navy's new punter, Eric Shuey had an adventurous debut.

Poor snaps forced the junior to scramble twice. One of his attempts barely cleared a Tulsa rusher's body, and another traveled only 3 yards after he shanked it off the side of his foot.

But no one was unhappy with the results after the junior wound up with only a 27-yard average on four punts.

"I thought Eric did OK," coach Paul Johnson said. "His punting average would have been all right if you take out the one that went 2 yards or so, and on the other kick he did a great job of getting it off. We're going to evaluate the poor snaps. That's ridiculous, especially when nobody was rushing.

"Eric had to scoop the ball and just get it off. The last punt wasn't his fault."

Shuey is punting rugby-style (kicking the ball on the run). All four of his kicks went out of bounds, meaning none was returned. Johnson said Shuey will continue to punt in the unconventional manner.

"I'm happy with my performance," said Shuey, who was a reserve place-kicker on the sprint team last season. "I had never done rugby punts. It's sort of a mix of punting and field-goal kicking."

Shuey works daily with John Skaggs, Navy's record-setting punter who graduated after last season, on rolling out to kick and handling snaps.

"As long as I'm getting some yards, I think they [coaches] will be happy," he said. "More importantly, no returns. You have more control over where the ball goes doing it this way and by rolling out, you're giving the coverage more time to get down there."

A balanced approach

The 3-0 Midshipmen, who led the nation in rushing last season, are gaining the ground yardage again - 310.3 per game to rank sixth - but their defense is proving no slouch either.

Navy's 29-0 victory at Tulsa on Saturday marked the team's first shutout in nearly 10 years and the first over a Division I-A opponent in nearly 24. Its previous shutout on the road came in 1978 against Connecticut.

The team has not allowed a fourth-quarter point in three games, and opponents have managed a mere 13 second-half points while averaging just 12 per game overall. Only twice have Navy foes driven extensive distances to touchdowns (Duke, 80 yards, Northeastern 83).

Defensive coordinator Buddy Green isn't satisfied yet.

"We've got to do everything better and improve every week," he said. "We haven't had as many three-and-outs as we'd like. We've let teams drive, but we've been fortunate to stop them in the red zone. The offense has been our biggest defense, keeping us off the field by moving the football."

Navy celebrated its shutout after the game, but isn't dwelling on it.

"It was good for everybody," said linebacker Bobby McClarin. "DuJuan [Price] had two picks and held up the shutout. We [the first-team players] were on the sideline saying the youngsters better not let them score. But this is a new week."

A move for `camaraderie'

Johnson said he agreed to allow two non-football-playing seniors to play during the opening kickoff in two games because "I thought it might be fun for our team and the brigade.

"Surely to goodness, we can find two guys who can run down and cover a kick from all [1,000 of] the first classmen. I think my players understand what it's all about if you approach it the right way. It ought to build some camaraderie."

Each of two battalions will send 24 candidates to try out Oct. 18. One midshipman will be chosen to participate in the homecoming game against Delaware on Oct. 30 and another will be selected for the home game against Rutgers on Nov. 20.

"We don't have any problems with eligibility, because if you make it to the senior year at the academy, your academics are pretty good," Johnson said.

Next for Navy

Matchup: Vanderbilt (0-2) vs. Navy (3-0)

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium

When: Tomorrow, 1:30 p.m.

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

Line: Navy by 8 1/2

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