New Mexico offense looms large to Mids

To Navy defensive line, it's more of the same: tall, 300-pound foes

December 28, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO - The lightweight, quick guard, Bryan Humphreys, is 297 pounds. His interior running mates weigh 325, 328, 316 and 329 pounds. They all stand at least 6 feet 3, with center Ryan Cook and quick tackle Terrance Pennington checking in at 6-7.

This is the New Mexico offensive line of behemoths set to square off with Navy's resourceful defense when they meet in the Emerald Bowl on Thursday.

How will the Midshipmen defenders cope with such massive size? By doing the same things they do when they're at such a disadvantage. Which is every week.

"We're used to playing guys that are bigger than us," said Navy coach Paul Johnson. "We'll have to move around some and slant and try not to take them on straight up. I think they're the biggest we've played on average. But we're going to have to run our defense. We aren't going to change it."

Navy's defensive coordinator, Buddy Green, stressed that the Lobos are "big everywhere" on the offensive front, with the first two tight ends both 6-5 and more than 250 pounds and most of the wide receivers above 200. "They're also very good. They have feet that can move, and they'll get out and pull."

Green said the important thing for his unit is not to "stand up and watch. We have to play with low pads and execute. It's important to keep people off our linebackers, so they can make tackles. We can't get kicked back into our linebackers."

The assignment of preventing blockers from getting to the Navy linebackers always falls upon the smallish three-man defensive line that includes ends Jeremy Chase (listed at 250) and Jeff Vanak (listed at 247).

"We're going to have to stay within ourselves," said Vanak, a senior. "We can't go out there trying to do something spectacular. If we're playing well, our linebackers are making all our tackles. So, we have to cause a lot of disruption. This is the biggest test for us, literally."

"All we have to do is stay low and attack them," added Chase, a junior. "That line helps out their big back [DonTrell Moore, owner of three straight 1,000-plus seasons] a lot, makes a lot of holes for him. But he does a lot of stuff on talent, too. We have to bring them some disorder."

Navy's defense has been a resilient group most of the season. Only at Tulane - an ugly 42-10 loss - on Nov. 6 was the unit truly battered, but that was a game in which the entire team was lethargic and unfocused.

"This is probably the most physical line we've seen," said Vanak. "We have our work cut out for us."

Technique and quickness will be paramount concerns for the Navy defense throughout. The Midshipmen cannot get into a slugfest with this team.

Even if they succeed in neutralizing the massive opposing line, they still must contend with the gifted Moore, who is strong, shifty, fast and compared often to Barry Sanders.

"He's as good as we've seen," Green said. "The impressive thing is that he gets a ton of yards after first contact. He's a big man, but he can also make people miss in the open field. He's going to be a load to handle."

Navy will surrender yardage but has a penchant for getting tough to penetrate as the opponent nears the goal line. The Midshipmen have allowed fewer than 20 points a game and rank 26th nationally in scoring defense.

The secondary members have generally been effective at keeping pass plays in front of them, and New Mexico, a team built on a crunching ground game and stout defense, has a starting quarterback, Kole McKamey, who has run for as many touchdowns as he has amassed throwing. Moore is the team's meal ticket.

Johnson said Navy won't necessarily run more defensive gimmicks to counteract the size differential. "We'll stay with what got us here," he said.

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