Time's up for Navy

Mids make most of three-week layoff, are eager to face Duke


Durham, N.C. -- If practice makes perfect, Navy's football team should be awfully hard to handle this afternoon.

Three weeks after suffering their second straight three-point defeat to a major opponent, the Midshipmen finally stop hitting each other in squad workouts when they serve as Duke's homecoming guests at Wallace Wade Stadium. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

How they respond to a layoff equaling the longest in the school's history is the question for Navy, which is favored for the first time this season against a 1-3 Duke team that has beaten only overmatched VMI.

"I think we'll be all right," coach Paul Johnson said. "But we haven't played in so long. Usually, after a few games, things start to show up, strengths and weaknesses, and we haven't even reached that point yet. Usually, you play the way you practice and most of ours have been OK."

If eagerness is the criterion for success, Navy has it in abundance.

"I don't know that all this practice has been dull, but it's gotten repetitive," said defensive captain Jeremy Chase. "It's been like having camp in midseason. We're anxious to get out there and play."

This is a pivotal game for Navy in its quest for a third straight bowl game. A defeat would create an uphill climb for the young team, which also needs a confidence boost after two outings in which it could have pulled upsets and instead felt heartbreak.

"This is big," Chase said. "The difference between 1-2 and 0-3 is huge. To accomplish all our goals and make the postseason, we have to start now."

Duke has even bigger problems, particularly on offense, where three different quarterbacks haven't been able to generate enough punch. Coach Ted Roof might start highly touted freshman Zack Asack, who provided some spark in the second half of last week's 38-7 loss to Virginia despite throwing two interceptions.

"We have to correct our ball-security mistakes that have been plaguing us," said Roof, whose team is minus-five in the turnover ratio. "A lot of the problem has been field position. Not many teams will hold up when they turn the ball over in their end of the field."

He is also concerned about his defenders - who have been generally respectable - carrying out assignments against Navy's triple option, a familiar theme for opposing coaches.

"They read you, and if you make a mistake, they capitalize on it," he said. "That offense forces you to be extremely disciplined play after play after play."

This is a trying time for the Blue Devils. Beginning last week, they faced a five-game stretch against teams who combined for 43 wins and four bowl victories last year. Miami (Fla.), Georgia Tech and Florida State follow Navy and Virginia. And they are trying to confront that with 20 freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep chart of the major units.

It'll be the third straight game against a member of a Bowl Championship Series conference for Navy, and Johnson figures to give backup quarterback Brian Hampton some first-half time in an effort to have starter Lamar Owens available for the stretch. Owens has been forced to leave the first two games in portions of the second half because of cramping.

"We've played two quarterbacks in every game," said Johnson. "I don't know why we wouldn't in this one."

Owens is growing weary of the subject of cramping after being bombarded with questions on the yard, in the residence halls and by the media.

"It would be selfish of me to want to play when my body is not functioning right," he said. "There are 150 guys associated with this team. Whatever it takes to win. That is the coaches' decision. I don't think switching gears is a big problem for this team."

Homecoming figures to bring an enthusiastic Duke crowd in Navy's first true road game.

"Obviously, they think it's a game they should win," Chase said. "They'll definitely be fired up. What we have to do is keep our heads in the game. You can't let the crowd get in your head."

After three weeks of seeing only each other, they'll be overjoyed to be focused on someone else.


Today's game

Navy (0-2) @ Duke (1-3)

Site -- Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C.

Time -- 1 p.m.

Radio -- 1090 AM, 1430 AM

Last week -- Navy's game at Rice was postponed because of Hurricane Rita; Duke lost to Virginia, 38-7.

Series -- Navy leads 17-12-5

Line -- Navy by 6

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.