To exorcise a 34-point loss to Vanderbilt last Saturday in which Navy committed 10 turnovers, the Midshipmen's skill-position players carried footballs around campus. There was also an attempt to achieve greater team unity by sharing a movie on Friday night.
But tackling and catching would have proved far more useful at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium yesterday when the Midshipmen absorbed another embarrassing defeat, 42-13 to Southern Methodist, which had beaten only Texas Christian in its previous 10 games.
Since leading then second-ranked Notre Dame, 24-17, at halftime Oct. 30, the Mids (4-6) have been outscored 114-23, and their losing streak has been extended to four.
And yesterday's final spread proved misleading because Navy was held scoreless until the fourth quarter, when SMU (2-7-2) sent in its reserves.
With hopes dashed of achieving Navy's first winning season since 1982, coach George Chaump said: "All we can do now is go out and beat Army."
Beating Army also could mean the difference in Chaump continuing to coach the Mids next season. He is in the last year of a four-year contract and his record is 11-32.
An inordinate number of turnovers could help explain the drubbing by Vanderbilt, but there were no excuses offered yesterday despite a poor kicking game and 11 dropped passes on this blustery afternoon.
Brian Schrum, punting mostly into a 27-mph wind, averaged only 23 yards on seven kicks to repeatedly give SMU excellent field position. His first kick traveled 7 yards.
But Chaump was more realistic.
"We just got beat by a good team that played good football," he said, restating his pre-game belief that SMU was "the best 1-7-2 team I've seen."
The Mids simply had no answers for Ramon Flanigan, a redshirt freshman quarterback whose explosive offensive skills have been compared to the Philadelphia Eagles' Randall Cunningham.
"He is definitely going to be an impact player for us the next few years," SMU coach Tom Rossley said. "He's going to be great fun to watch."
It was anything but fun for the Navy defenders. Operating the Mustangs' run-and-shoot, Flanigan combined for 290 yards offense, running 3 yards for one score and throwing a 37-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Thornal before exiting in the fourth quarter with a sprained ankle.
A 6-foot-1, 170-pound native of Wichita Falls, Texas, Flanigan had been programmed as the starter last year before being shelved by a broken thumb.
A case of mononucleosis and a bruised shoulder limited his starting assignments this year. But the way Flanigan finished the season has rekindled interest in SMU, fighting back from the "death penalty" the NCAA imposed for a boosters' slush fund in 1987.
"Flanigan really hurt us," Chaump said. "He really got loose and made some big plays to put them in position to score. We tried blitzing in the second half, but nothing helped. We missed a lot of tackles, but he has a knack of slipping them."
Flanigan showed his elusiveness time and again, highlighted by a career-high 54-yard sprint that set up the Mustangs' second touchdown.
Navy co-captain Javier Zuluaga, the team's leading tackler who spent a frustrating day chasing Flanigan, said: "He could be another [Florida State star] Charlie Ward. He had a great day of checking off plays and beating our blitzes. I got killed. We all got killed."
Despite their poor record, Flanigan and the Mustangs, one-point underdogs, came into the game supremely confident.
"After watching films, we felt we had a running advantage over Navy," Flanigan said. "We knew by running the ball, the wind wouldn't be a factor, but I know passing the ball had to be a problem for Navy."
But Chaump would not fault quarterback Jim Kubiak (26-for-48, 224 yards) or his receivers on a day when the Mids were fighting an uphill battle.
"Once they got ahead 28-0, it made an easy job for their defense knowing we had to pass," Chaump said. "Our inability to run the ball early was what killed us."
Kubiak, a junior from Buffalo who set single-season records for completions and yardage, took a good part of the blame.
"I wasn't sharp in the first half or moving around very well," said Kubiak, whose 6-yard pass to reserve tight end Jim Mill early in the fourth quarter spoiled SMU's shutout.
"Sure, there were dropped passes, but we just had a lot of individual breakdowns, and it's a shame the coach has to sit here and take the blame."
Chaump knows where the buck stops. The Mids will need an impressive victory over Army (5-5) on Dec. 4 at the Meadowlands in New Jersey to gain some sense of security.