For a change, Navy cruises

Improved defense, quick-strike offense lead to rout of Rice after five straight thrillers

College football


After five consecutive games that went down to the wire before being decided, Navy coach Paul Johnson was hoping to see a blowout victory. He got his wish Saturday night in Houston.

Navy didn't exactly perform ideally, but the top 60-minute production of the season by the defensive unit and the quick-striking capability of the offense were more than enough to subdue Rice, 41-9, and give Johnson's team its fourth straight win.

"We can do better," Johnson said. "But I think any time you win like that, you have to be excited about it. It was our best game of the year on defense."

In extending Rice's losing streak to a national-worst 12 games (Army won Saturday to leave the Owls alone with that dubious distinction), the Midshipmen continued to enhance their postseason credentials with a fourth win in a row after early-season three-point losses to Maryland and Stanford.

Rice spent most of the night plodding between the 20-yard lines against a Navy defense that had been embarrassed by allowing 31 points to Kent State a week earlier.

"All in all, we didn't give up very many big plays," Johnson said. "That gives the other team a chance to self-destruct. We had a lot of tackles for losses and sacks."

Navy's linebackers, led by Rob Caldwell, David Mahoney, Tyler Tidwell and Jake Biles, were all over the field making stops. Rice's only first-half score was on a 53-yard field goal by Luke Juist, and, by the time the Owls scored their only touchdown, the Midshipmen were cruising with a 27-3 cushion.

"Once we got five minutes into the third quarter, we had things pretty much under control," Johnson said.

After sputtering to find consistency for a half, the Navy attack scored two quick second-half touchdowns, the first set up by freshman Karlos Whittaker's 52-yard kickoff return, the second by an Owls fumble forced by Tidwell and recovered by teammate Andrew Tattersall at the Rice 18.

Navy required just five plays from scrimmage to convert those two possessions into touchdowns and build that 24-point lead.

"The identity of this team has been big plays," Johnson said, "going 20 and 30 yards at a pop. I think our longest scoring drive was about two minutes. There's nothing wrong with scoring like that, but I'd like to see more consistency sometimes. We're not having the methodical drives."

Navy's first touchdown drive came on a 26-yard burst by quarterback Lamar Owens, followed by a 31-yard scoring run by Matt Hall. Navy needed all of three plays on its second touchdown drive, capped by a 19-yard burst by Whittaker. Two plays got them into the end zone after Tattersall's fumble recovery, and a 47-yard run by Hall set up another touchdown.

Owens was "dinged up a little bit" in the first half, according to Johnson, and backup Brian Hampton continued to excel in relief, leading Navy to a 31-yard field goal by Joey Bullen with four seconds left in the second quarter and guiding the final touchdown march, which Hampton capped from the 1.

Johnson is pleased that the team has "kind of fought back to get into a position to see what we can do" with regard to a winning season, but the road won't get any easier this weekend at 5-2 Rutgers, which has beaten Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Connecticut and is challenging for the Big East Conference title.

"They're a lot bigger and more physical than any team we've played since Maryland and Stanford," Johnson said.

Not to mention the 54-21 beating Rutgers absorbed in Annapolis last season. That is one loss that isn't easy to forget.

Navy@Rutgers Saturday, 3:30 p.m., 1090 AM, 1430 AM

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