Navy defense will discover Air Force no longer fills the skies


ANNAPOLIS -- Air Force football coach Fisher DeBerry looked at his team's record, 5-1, checked out the Navy log, 0-4, and the wheels started turning. Time for the old "when longtime rivals get together" speech.

"When two service academies play, it makes no difference what the records are because of the intensity out there. Navy hasn't won, but they've been in every game and that scares me," said DeBerry.

Meanwhile, Navy coach George Chaump hopes his opposite number knows of what he speaks, about records being meaningless, the prize going to the team that wants it the most and all those other bromides dredged up whenever rivals come to grips.

Despite their empty platter, the Middies, as far as their coach is concerned, "have shown great resiliency and desire." Now if the talent was just a tad better.

"We needed a week off, psychologically," said Chaump. "Usually, I don't like a break in the schedule, but we needed it for the guys to begin forgetting the negative things."

At the same time, the Middies needed every spare minute of practice time for Saturday's 1:30 p.m. encounter at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium to re-tool their suspect defense for the Falcons' suddenly free-wheeling wishbone attack.

While beating up on Wyoming, Colorado State and Weber State, sneaking by Utah and San Diego State and losing to Brigham Young, Air Force has run the ball 371 times and passed it just 45. "But," said Chaump, "they are now a team that can pass the ball once a game or they might end up throwing it 12 to 15 times."

That's the nature of the wishbone, sticking to the ground until state or federal law decrees otherwise. "We've been improving our passing as we go along," said DeBerry, "and we are more balanced now and have more speed."

Check out the numbers of the Falcons rushers -- main men Rob Perez and Jason Jones carry 5.4-yard averages while Antoine Banks and Wayne Young go for 8.3 and 4.7, respectively -- and one wonders why they would ever consider putting the ball up.

"Big play," Chaump explained. "In defensing the wishbone, you have to have a guy on the quarterback, a guy on the fullback and one on the pitchman. That's to both sides of the field. You're only left with five players to take care of anything else.

"As the game goes along, your defense can get lulled to sleep as it gets honed in on the option play down after down. Invariably, someone gets free and they can hit a long one."

Air Force quarterback Perez, for example, has hit just 16 of 40 passes (40 percent), but they've accounted for more than 30 yards per connection and four touchdowns. That's hitting them deep all right.

"He's just an outstanding wishbone quarterback," said Chaump, "because he has all the prerequisites for the position: he's a strong runner, shifty and fast, is intelligent and makes good decisions and has a good arm and can throw.

"Fortunately, the week off has given us time to prepare for the different offensive approach we'll be facing. It would have been OK with me if we had another week."

Despite the apparent disparity of the teams, the joint will be rocking with a capacity crowd of 35,000 expected. Adding to the usual traffic problems inherent with any Navy home game, there's a Sailboat Show at City Dock Saturday afternoon and, of course, Route 50 construction continues into its second decade.

In addition, the Brigade of Midshipmen and a contingent of 300 Cadets from Air Force will further disrupt vehicular movement with a march from the academy beginning at 12:15. Police officials are suggesting use of any alternate approach to the area up to and including boat, walking and parachute drop.

"If I was Navy," said DeBerry, "I'd be thinking this game can be a whole new beginning if they beat us. It would cure a lot of their ills."

"It would be a nice thing to salvage, the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy [assuming a victory over Army], although I'd certainly like to win more than two games," said Chaump.

Air Force has beaten Navy nine consecutive times, most of the time by healthy margins.

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