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Sudden Navy turnaround built on defensive ballast Overlooked unit excels in team's 2 road wins


Two weeks ago, after Navy committed six turnovers in the second half and bowed to a then-winless Wake Forest team, 30-7, several members of the defense vowed that they would not suffer another embarrassing loss this season.

"I felt all this rage," said junior defensive end Tom Poulter. "We just didn't stop Wake Forest when we had to.

"It was a reincarnation of all the trash we experienced last year. I was determined not to let it happen again."

Added junior linebacker Clint Bruce: "There was no finger-pointing. We knew we were better than we showed against Wake Forest. But we still had to go out and prove it."

And the Navy defense did precisely that last week in traveling to Durham, N.C., and upsetting heavily favored Duke, 30-9, limiting the Blue Devils to three field goals and 17 yards rushing. Twice, the Midshipmen held Duke without a touchdown inside their 10-yard line.

It has been easy to overlook the contribution the defense has made in its road victories over Southern Methodist and Duke, with most of the media attention centering on the offensive efforts of sophomore quarterback Chris McCoy.

But the defense has made the most dramatic turnaround from last season.

Here are some striking statistics as Navy prepares to play host to Virginia Tech on Saturday.

* At this time last year, Navy was 0-4 and had allowed an average of 52 points per game. That has dropped to 17.0 per game this season, with offensive mistakes mainly responsible for the loss to Wake Forest.

* After four games in 1994, the defense had yielded 479.5 yards per game. At the same point, the 1995 Mids have yielded 332.8 yards per game.

* Neither Southern Methodist nor Duke could muster a touchdown, and were limited to under 100 yards rushing. The 17 yards the Blue Devils gained on the ground were the fewest the Mids have allowed since holding Princeton to 5 yards in 1984.

* Navy has matched last year's interception total of six, with sophomore defensive back Sean Andrews accounting for four.

"These kids are playing extremely hard," said defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas, who has coached at all three service academies, plus traditional football powers Notre Dame, Tennessee and Arkansas.

"There may be more blue-chippers at Notre Dame and Arkansas, but I'm very pleased with the talent level here. These kids really compete. We're not blessed with great speed, but we have a lot of guys who manage to run fast on a football field and get to the ball."

Since arriving in the spring, Bumpas has seen four leaders emerge in junior linebacker Bruce, senior safeties Andy Thompson and Joe Speed, and senior tackle Mark Hammond.

"They keep everybody up by their vocal leadership and the way they perform on the field," Bumpas said.

Bruce, in turn, credits Bumpas with defining the roles of the defenders.

"What Dick Bumpas has done is to give each defender a chance to make the most of his ability," Bruce said. "He knows that [linebacker] Fernando Harris, with his speed, is better at pursuing people. And he knows I like to get my nose dirty and take guys head on, like a dog wrestling over a bone."

In Bumpas' scheme, the Mids employ five defensive backs, and the experienced secondary has been one of the team's strengths.

"With guys like Joe Speed, Robert Green, Gervy Alota and Andy Thompson who love to hit, it allows us to put more pressure on the quarterbacks," Bruce said.

"And it's amazing how Andrews is always around the ball. He's saved at least three touchdowns."

Bruce is looking forward to tangling with Virginia Tech (2-2).

"There's going to be a lot of old-fashioned head-knocking," said Bruce, smiling in anticipation.

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