Whittaker makes big gains, but still has strides to make

Blocking is also a big part of Johnson's system

Navy notebook

September 16, 2005|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Although freshman Karlos Whittaker was clearly the rushing star in Navy's narrow loss to Stanford, he won't necessarily receive more playing time when game action resumes Sept. 24 at Rice.

"He's good with the ball in his hands," said coach Paul Johnson. "But he had three missed assignments for the time he was in there. He turns a guy loose in pass pro [protection] and we get sacked. The quicker he learns, the more plays he'll get."

Blocking prowess is particularly important in the Johnson system and for an undersized team such as Navy (0-2).

Whittaker said he rated his performance "balanced" after he rushed for 110 yards on a mere seven carries, including a 44-yard touchdown run, the longest by a Navy player this season. In other words, he did some good things, some bad.

He was only the second plebe in academy history to rush for more than 100 yards in a game. Alton Grizzard accumulated 225 yards on 23 rushes against Penn in 1987.

The native of North Chicago, Ill., is a slot back, a position where the Midshipmen are deep and talented. One of the starting slots, senior Marco Nelson, scored touchdowns via a run, a pass reception and a return of a fumbled punt Saturday and is believed to be the first player in NCAA history to accomplish that in the same game.

"He'll continue in the rotation," Johnson said of Whittaker, one of the team's fastest players.

Help for Owens?

Johnson is considering first-half relief for quarterback Lamar Owens, who has been forced to leave the first two games frequently after halftime because of cramping.

The situation has left the team without its offensive captain at the most crucial point of close games.

"Clearly the kid wants to play," Johnson said of Owens. "But if he's tired and can't run, he has to come out of there. We have to play someone."

0-2 by the numbers

The last time Navy opened a season with two losses, it finished 0-10 with one game canceled because of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

That was the final year of the regime of Charlie Weatherbie, who was fired during the season and replaced on an interim basis by Rick Lantz for the final three games.

Only twice in 19 occasions have the Midshipmen rebounded from an 0-2 start to a winning record, the last time in 1928 when they finished 5-3-1.

Johnson had never started 0-2 during a 23-year career as an assistant or head coach.

Et cetera

Navy has avoided major injuries so far. Starting guard Zach Gallion suffered a sprained ankle against Stanford, but the week off is expected to allow him to be ready for Rice. ... The Midshipmen threw only four interceptions last season, but already have three in 2005. ... Rob Caldwell is off to a big start for the tackling lead. He has 27, including two for losses and a sack, and an 11-tackle lead on fellow linebacker Jake Biles.

Next for Navy

Matchup: Navy (0-2) at Rice (0-1)

When: Sept. 24, 6 p.m.

Radio: 1430 AM

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