HONOLULU -- No two college bowl teams could be more dissimilar in offensive style than Navy and California, which will meet today in the Aloha Bowl. And the two quarterbacks, Chris McCoy and Pat Barnes, have both prospered operating their disparate systems.
"Pat and I are what you call opposites on the field," said McCoy, who set a school rushing record for quarterbacks with 1,228 yards and 16 touchdowns. "We run first and pass second, while they throw the ball practically all the time."
The Midshipmen gained 283.6 yards rushing a game, fifth-best in the nation, and were 22nd in scoring offense, averaging 31.8 points in posting an 8-3 record.
"What I like about our offense is it gives you a lot of options," McCoy said. "Obviously, against an explosive attack like Cal's, we've got to control the ball and keep them off the field as long as possible."
Barnes and the Bears counter with the now-fashionable West Coast offense designed by former San Francisco 49ers Bill Walsh and adapted by Cal's new coach Steve Mariucci.
"I only run when I have to," said the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Barnes. In contrast to the elusive McCoy, Barnes had minus-83 yards rushing this season.
But the California native shattered school records by passing for 3,499 yards and 31 touchdowns. In a four-overtime, 56-55 victory over Arizona, he passed for 503 yards and a Pacific-10 record eight touchdowns.
"Our goal is to throw the football down the field and score as quickly as we can," said Barnes, a senior projected to be a top NFL prospect. "We realize we probably won't get as many possessions as usual against a ball-control team like Navy."
There's a sharp contrast in the way Barnes' and McCoy's college football careers have evolved.
McCoy arrived unheralded at the Naval Academy and spent his freshman season playing defensive back for the junior varsity.
When Charlie Weatherbie replaced George Chaump in December 1994, he needed someone to run assistant Paul Johnson's spread offense. McCoy, a quarterback at his Randolph, Ga., high school, won out over Ben Fay, who was regarded as a superior passer.
Few college players have made as spectacular a varsity debut. In the 1995 opener at Southern Methodist, McCoy rushed for 273 yards and passed for 125 in a 33-2 victory. He finished the year with 803 yards rushing and improved this season to the point where Navy publicists have begun a Heisman Trophy campaign for next year.
Barnes arrived on the Berkeley campus with great fanfare. Coming out of Trabuco Hills High in Orange County, he was hailed by one recruiting magazine as the nation's fourth-best quarterback.
He proved to be anything but an overnight sensation, playing sparingly as a freshman. Expected to redshirt in 1994, he was tTC pressed into duty when injuries shelved quarterbacks Dave Barr and Kerry McGonigal.
It was a rough baptism, losing 61-0 to Southern California. Barnes showed flashes of his potential against Washington, completing 33-for-44 passes for 389 yards, the most ever given up by the Huskies, but the Bears won only seven of 22 games his sophomore and junior years.
Mariucci, a former college All-America quarterback who tutored Brett Favre with the Green Bay Packers, said Barnes was simply scratching the surface.
"Pat really got little accomplished his first two years," Mariucci said. "He was really just learning to play the game and still had a lot of maturing to do."
A knee injury to star running back Tarik Smith forced Barnes to grow up quickly this season.
"Pat has improved in every area: mechanically and fundamentally, with his passing, accuracy and ball-faking," Mariucci said. "Those are tangible attributes. But probably more important, he's developed as a leader and team captain. Last year, his confidence level might have been up and down. Now he's developed into the total package."
Navy defenders certainly seem impressed.
"He's definitely going to be the best quarterback we've faced all year," said defensive back Gervy Alota. "He's a big guy with scrambling ability, and he reads the defenses well."
Said Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie: "You've got to be able to mix it up against him. You can't let him guess what coverage you're in. Barnes is very adept at picking up his second and third receivers."
Mariucci and his staff are just as concerned about how to stop McCoy and Navy's spread offense.
"We just don't see that type of offense often enough," said defensive coordinator Tom Holmoe. "I think simulation is the biggest problem a team faces. We've used a redshirt freshman [Phillip Pipersburg] who's like a 10.5 100-meter guy to run the scout team.
"He may be faster than McCoy, but you really can't learn how to run that offense in a crash course. You just can't simulate it. You have to be much more disciplined against the option, sticking with assignments or they'll kill you with the pitch play. "
Mariucci has some understanding of how it works. He was an option quarterback in high school.
"I've got a lot of bruises and arthritis as proof of it," he said. "That's why I can really appreciate McCoy. He's a durable guy. He takes hit after hit and keeps on ticking."
Navy (8-3) vs. California (6-5)
Site: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu
When: Today, 3: 30 p.m.
TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WITH (1230 AM), WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)
The line: Navy by 1
Pub Date: 12/25/96