With a two-week hiatus to regroup and mend wounds, Navy's football team plays host to Wake Forest (2-7) of the Atlantic Coast Conference at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium tomorrow with a 1:30 p.m. kickoff.
The Deacons are headed by one of the nation's most respected coaches, Bill Dooley, the Mississippian in his silver anniversary year as a head coach with a record of 151-114-5.
After upsetting Duke two weeks ago, 31-14, the Deacons fell to Aloha Bowl-bound Georgia Tech last Saturday, 27-3, in the Yellow Jackets' 17th consecutive victory at home.
Wake Forest was still in the game going into the fourth quarter, mainly behind the passing arm of quarterback Keith West, who went 15-for-28 for 101 yards, but GeorgiaTech closed with two quick touchdowns in the final 15 minutes.
West is the same quarterback who threw three touchdown passes in the Deacons' 58-26 rout of Vanderbilt to close out the 1990 season (3-8).
With 10 defensive starters returning this year at Wake Forest, preseason hopes for a stronger effort on defense were high. This did not materialize as the Deacons once again ran up against the big boys in the Atlantic Coast Conference, with North Carolina State going to thePeach Bowl, Clemson to the Citrus, Georgia Tech to the Aloha and Virginia to the Gator. Their closest loss was to Maryland, 23-22.
Thevisitors from Winston-Salem, N.C., represent the only opponent on this year's Mid schedule with an undergraduate enrollment less than theNaval Academy's (3,400), but continue to compete in all major sportsin the conference that appears to get more formidable on the national scene each year.
Their only previous meeting with Navy was back in 1929 when "Navy Bill" Ingraham's charges defeated them in Annapolis, 61-0.
Ingraham still holds the Navy all-time personal scoring record as a player for a season, 174 points in 1917, and for a career,263 points from 1916-1918.
Back to tomorrow's important game. If anyone at Wake Forest anticipates playing a disheartened Navy football team at this 0-9 state of the season, they will be in for a big awakening.
This Navy squad really has heart, and in spite of a discouraging and even embarrassing record to date, if one attended practices all week one would get the impression that an undefeated season is under way. The players simply won't quit.
The only bad news related to the approach to this game is that several starters are still nursing injuries and might not be ready to play. Middle guard Dan Pidgeon, linebackers Javier Zuluaga and Chris Beck and defensive back Mark McGinnis are doubtful.
Pidgeon and Zuluaga missed the Tulane game,while Beck and McGinnis sprained an ankle and a neck, respectively, in the Tulane game. Pidgeon is recovering from a knee injury, and Zuluaga a groin sprain.
Sophomore quarterback Jason Van Matre has recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery and will be available. However,freshman signal-caller Jim Kubiak is listed as the starter with a 44-for-84 completion record for a respectable .524 average.
When Navy supporters think of these two players, visions of a 1992 turnaroundcome to mind. The 1991 season began with no quarterbacks that had ever played in a varsity game, an indescribable handicap at this level of play.
With another good throwing quarterback coming to town in Keith West, the visitors also have two receivers leading in three Atlantic Coast Conference statistical categories.
Tight end John Henry Mills is the league's top receiver with 45 receptions and split endTodd Dixon ranks first in touchdown catches (six) and in receiving yardage per game (71.7).
Once again Navy defensive coordinator DickBiddle, and particularly secondary coach Jerry Hartman, must design a pass defense to stop another effective aerial attack. They'll be assisted by defensive line coaches Jake Gonos and Kevin Kiesel.
Navy's defensive backfield is intact this week with Bob Kuberski, Mark Ellis, co-captain Byron Ogden and David Shaw as the linebacking corps, and Chad Chatlos, Chris Hart, Bill Yancey and Mark McGinnis as projected starters in the secondary.
With Kubiak at the controls, the starting running backs are Vinnie Smith and Brad Stramanak backed up capably by Billy James and Duke Ingraham. The two ends are freshmen Kevin Hickman and Tom Pritchard, and the flanker is co-captain B. J. Mason. The offensive line, which averages 275 pounds, will be manned by Max Lane (286), Carl Voss (281), Steve Palmer (262), Mike Davis (283)and Blair Sokol (263).
The three interior defensive lineman are abit lighter, averaging 253 pounds, with starters Steve Sterlitz (252), Robert Goodson (246) and Chris Snider (260).
Navy has been playing ACC schools since 1889, holding winning records over Duke (14-9-5), Maryland (14-5-1), North Carolina (5-4-0), North Carolina State (7-1-0), Virginia (27-8-0) and Wake Forest (1-0).
It trails Clemson (1-0) and Georgia Tech (8-13-0). The upcoming Mid schedule with that conference levels off with only Virginia in 1992-1994, North Carolinain 1992 and Duke in 1994.
The youthfulness of this Navy team bears mentioning once again as it concludes the frustrating 1991 season tomorrow and with archrival Army in two weeks.
It is still amazing.No one can recall a previous Mid team with at least three freshmen and three sophomores regularly starting games, with a total of seven freshmen seeing plenty of action overall. This is unheard of on the varsity level. Also, seven sophomores are on the offensive depth chart and six on the defensive.
This bodes well for success in the near future. In the least, Navy will go into the 1992 season with a coupleof experienced quarterbacks and a squad of spirited and confident midshipmen. A lot can be accomplished with a big winning effort tomorrow, however.
Earl Schubert, a free-lance writer, is a Baltimore native who lives in Annapolis. A former football coach, he was a secondary school administrator in Missouri and Montgomery County, and workedfor 17 years as a senior official in the U.S. Department of Education. His "Navy Blue and Gold" column appears every Friday in the Anne Arundel County Sun.