Navy can gain bowl eligibility with win today

Midshipmen see dangerous opponent, as winless Duke nearly upset Miami, Wake

November 04, 2006|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun reporter

They are starting the final regular-season push with a new quarterback and an offensive line that has just lost its most consistent performer in the eyes of the team's head coach. Yet, the Navy football team has been conditioned by the recent past to view the coming four-game stretch as its time.

The Midshipmen (5-3) are confronting only their second two-game losing streak over the past four seasons under fifth-year coach Paul Johnson. Beginning with today's visit to winless Duke, Navy feels poised to finish strong once again, and a victory over the 0-8 Blue Devils would get the momentum rolling again by securing the school's bowl eligibility for the fourth straight year.

Navy was a combined 8-4 in its last four games of the 2003, 2004 and 2005 seasons, and 8-1 in its last three outings of those seasons.

"Around this time of the year, everybody is starting to get a little tired, but one thing our team is really good at is pushing through things. It's our work ethic," said sophomore quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who will try to build on an encouraging debut as a starter in last week's 38-14 loss to Notre Dame.

"Last year, when I didn't know what was going on, I was just eyes wide, doing what coach says. But I saw how we were flying around in practice at full speed, all year long. This team works hard."

The schedule certainly has played a part in Navy's end-of-the-year rolls. For example, the Mids have beaten struggling Army by at least 19 points in every meeting under Johnson. This year's remaining four opponents - Duke, Eastern Michigan, Temple and Army - have a combined record of 5-29. That's a long way from the daunting, back-to-back assignments presented by top 15 powers Rutgers and Notre Dame. They are a combined 15-1.

But the Mids also think the power of endless repetitions, particularly with their intricate, spread option offense, has paid dividends in the homestretch.

"We've been running the offense for 12, 13, 14 weeks now. That helps you get really good at it," junior wide receiver O.J. Washington said. "And we don't let our guard down and get complacent. We realize we can't impress anybody just by walking on the field."

"We kind of do the same things over and over. Normally, we've got a quarterback that's been playing all year, and he's starting to get comfortable," Johnson said. "It's a little different this year."

With junior right tackle Josh Meek out for the season with a right knee injury after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament against Notre Dame, Navy has replaced him with sophomore Andrew McGinn. Kaheaku-Enhada has taken over for Brian Hampton, whose final season ended with a serious knee injury in a 34-0 setback against Rutgers.

The Mids are counting on their second-ranked ground game to set the tone today, after it stalled in the second half against Notre Dame and was nearly nonexistent against the Scarlet Knights. Navy also does not anticipate a rollover by Duke, despite the fact that the Blue Devils start a true freshman at quarterback in Thaddeus Lewis, have been outscored in the first quarter 78-3, and are ranked 115th out of 119 Division I-A schools in scoring offense, 102nd in scoring defense.

Duke also owns the nation's longest losing streak at 16 games.

Navy sees a dangerous opponent that nearly beat No. 22 Wake Forest before falling, 14-13, had a last-second chance to upset Miami before losing, 20-15, and was two points down at Alabama late in the fourth quarter before dropping a 30-14 decision.

Navy sees players such as freshman defensive tackles Vince Oghobaase, a prep All-American, and Ayanga Okpokowuruk getting better each time out. The Mids look at senior cornerback John Talley (16 career interceptions) and receivers Eron Riley and Jomar Wright and see big-play threats.

"It's so deceiving," senior defensive back Jeremy McGown said, referring to Duke's record. "We're watching film, and Duke's receivers are running by Florida State guys on fly patterns. I guarantee those Florida State corners can run 4.3s. It doesn't matter who we play, we're not as big or fast as they are. We have to be more physical and more emotional than the other team."

The Mids are 3-0 on the road this season, and have outscored Stanford, Connecticut and Air Force by a combined 102-43.

Note -- Navy's sports information office has clarified some misinformation from earlier in the week. With a victory today, Navy's senior class would break the modern record for wins by a single class with 32. If the Mids win the rest of their games, including the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the seniors would tie the all-time school record for wins with 36, originally set by the class of 1909.

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

Today's game

Matchup -- Navy (5-3) at Duke (0-8)

Time -- 1 p.m.

Radio -- 1090 AM, 1430 AM, 1500 AM, 107.7 FM, Sirius 143

Series -- Navy leads, 18-12-5

Last meeting -- Navy won at Duke, 28-21, on Oct. 1, 2005

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