Navy visits the University of Virginia tomorrow in the continuation of a football series that began in 1889. The two schools have met on the gridiron 33 times, with the Mids holding a 27-6 edge in victories.

Only the more optimistic dreamers among the Cavaliers' supporters could have contemplated the dramatic rise in Virginia's football fortunes over the past year or two.


Virginia has become a legitimate top 10 team nationally, sweeping past Big 8 Kansas, 59-10, in its opener and defeating No. 8 Clemson by two touchdowns last Saturday, 20-7. But really, what else is new?

The Cavs' coach, George Welsh, began establishing himself as one of the nation's best in the late '70s and early '80s by taking Navy's student-athletes to two bowl games in four years. Today he is consistently rated among the top five nationally by the coaching fraternity itself.


With the big Clemson victory, some sports scribes have begun to seriously give the Cavaliers a shot at the national championship, citing the so-called weakness of its remaining schedule. Georgia Tech, Maryland and Navy take issue with this observation.

To reinforce the silliness of this early prediction, all the average fan has to do is consult last week's scores -- Minnesota's Big 10 Golden Gophers losing to lowly Utah for one, at Minneapolis yet. Or Alabama dropping a home opener to Southern Mississippi in Birmingham. Who?

But the fact is that Virginia has a tremendous football team, a credit to the Atlantic Coast Conference and, more importantly, to the concept that a clean program can be successful in today's collegiate football scene.

As to the Mids, no one was more cognizant of the work that needed to be done this week than Coach George Chaump.

There were a number of positive developments in the Richmond victory last week. The offensive line, for one, gave quarterback Alton Grizzard time to order out for pizza while picking out pass receivers Jerry Dawson, Dave Beghult, Bill Mason and Bob Holmberg. The defensive line effectively harassed Spider quarterback Mark Marschak all afternoon, although Marschak threw for a brilliant 192 yards with Middie hands in his face.

Although great emphasis is being placed on the passing game, key rushes by Navy's Jason Pace at threatening moments and Rod Perifoy's consistent running efforts actually kept Navy in the hunt. Grizzard's quarterback-draw play into the end zone in the fourth quarter was the coup de grace as far as Richmond's chances were concerned.

The strategy, of course, is designed well to date. Talk pass, think pass, imply pass, show pass -- the opponent's defense opens up for the Mid run opportunities.

There were serious flaws, however, that the coaching staff is well aware of. Time and again the defensive secondary appeared full of holes as Richmond's Marschak picked them apart with accurate passes while seemingly overwhelmed by a charging Navy defensive line. On too many occasions, receivers Jim Jefferson and Bob Brown were amazingly wide open.


In reality, Marschak, however brilliant on Saturday, is no Shawn Moore, Virginia's Heisman Trophy candidate who operates behind a big offensive line that will outweigh Navy's defensive line by an average 43 pounds per man. Led by Ray Roberts (300), Chris Stearns (272), Trevor Ryals (264), Chris Borsan (281) and Paul Collins (276), Virginia's interior offensive alignment is among the biggest in the nation.

Will the Mids be quick enough to offset the size on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and will Grizzard be given the time to accurately throw the ball? These are key questions entering tomorrow's game.

If past performances hold up, Virginia will present a devastatingly balanced attack. Last year the Wahoos, as they are affectionally nicknamed, rushed for 2,594 yards and 32 touchdowns while passing for 2,342 yards and 20 touchdowns. More of the same is anticipated as Shawn Moore throws to his two favorite receivers, tight end Bruce McGonnigal of Baltimore and wide receivers Herman Moore. Backs Terry Kirby and Dave Sweeney will do most of the rushing.

So Coach Chaump, his staff, and his Midshipmen have their work cut out for them tomorrow. The Villanova Wildcats come to town next week for their first visit to Navy-Marine Corps stadium since losing to Navy in 1980, 24-15.

Short punts

Attesting to Navy's football tradition and influence on the national scene, it has faced 124 different opponents nationwide in 107 seasons, with a 532-342-57 record ... Last win over the Atlantic Coast Conference was a 12-7 victory over North Carolina in 1989; over the Pac-10, a 24-10 victory over the University of Washington in 1980; the Big 8, over Oklahoma in 1965, 10-0; the Southwest Conference, over S.M.U. in 1960, 26-7; the Southeastern Conference, over Vanderbilt in 1966, 30-14; and in the Western Athletic Conference, over B.Y.U. in 1978, 23-16.


... Best long series record against a major conference team, over Maryland, 14-5-1 ... Did you know that Navy played in the Rose Bowl in 1923, a 14-14 tie with the University of Washington? ... Most games coached at Navy (102) -- George Welsh ... Big winning coaches at Navy (number of games won) -- Bill Ingram (32), Eddie Erdalatz (50), Wayne Hardin (38) and George Welsh (55) ... Wildest Navy bowl game -- Holiday Bowl (1981), Ohio State 31, Navy 28 (the Mids were four-to five-touchdown underdogs against Woody Hayes but were threatening at the gun) ... Can you pick out the Army scouts at each Navy game? Look for that intense frown ... Don't miss the 150-pound Navy football home opener against Rutgers at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22. Exciting football.

Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990