The Naval Academy's campaign to make Chris McCoy a Heisman Trophy candidate took on an air of legitimacy last night when the senior quarterback ran for three touchdowns in the first half and passed for another as the Midshipmen swamped Rutgers, 36-7, before a record home opening crowd of 30,118.
McCoy, who gained 83 yards on the ground, became Navy's all-time rushing quarterback with 2,235 yards, supplanting Alton Grizzard.
The Navy co-captain also took sole possession of second place in career touchdowns (27) behind Napoleon McCallum, who had 31.
"Chris did a great job of leading the offense," said coach Charlie Weatherbie. "He's had more spectacular games, but he did what he had to do to make us win, and winning is the key to his being a Heisman candidate."
But McCoy had to share the limelight with the fullback tandem of Irv Dingle and Tim Cannada, who combined for 200 of Navy's 323 rushing yards and an aroused Navy defense that limited Rutgers' offense to 190 total yards.
It was a dramatic turnaround for the defense that had allowed 455 yards in last Friday's 45-31 loss to San Diego State.
An interception by defensive end Denis Kane and a fumble recovery on a kickoff by special teams member Tim Oliver set up two of Navy's three first-quarter touchdowns that gave the Mids a commanding 21-l lead they never relinquished in winning their eighth straight at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
"We were really embarrassed last week," Kane said. "We've got 10 seniors on defense, so this week was put up or shut up."
Kane credited the coaching staff with preparing the defense for Rutgers' screen pass.
"We had the perfect defense for that play," said Kane, who intercepted Mike Jones' pass on the Rutgers 36 and returned it to the 24 to set up McCoy's third touchdown burst. "We knew they liked to throw the screen to the halfback and the rest of their line was showing pass. All I had to do was read the quarterback."
Navy's second touchdown was also a gift from Rutgers, now 0-3 and outscored 143-40 by the opposition. Several Rutgers players stood around Tim Shubzda's kickoff to the Rutgers 11 and watched while Oliver recovered the ball on the 9. On the next play, McCoy burst up the middle to score his second touchdown.
The blunders were all too typical of the way the Scarlet Knights have performed this season. They had turned the ball over 11 times in their first two losses against Virginia Tech and Texas.
But even when they weren't hurting themselves, the Knights could not stop Navy.
McCoy needed only two plays to account for Navy's first score, setting up his 2-yard dive with a 45-yard pass to senior LeBron Butts. It was also Butts who caught a 28-yard pass from McCoy in the second quarter to give Navy a 27-7 halftime lead.
"I like the way we bounced right back after Rutgers had scored," said Weatherbie. "We gave up some yardage on the ground. We bent, but didn't break, and never gave up a big play."
It was in stark contrast to the season opener when San Diego State burned the Navy secondary for 371 yards passing and an average of 18 yards a catch.
But Rutgers did not show the semblance of a passing game. For the third straight week second-year coach Terry Shea benched Jones in the second half.
This time, he called on freshman Mike McMahon, who hardly fared better. All told, Rutgers completed only eight of 26 passes for 90 yards, killing any chances for a second-half comeback.
Navy controlled the clock in the second half, but had to settle for three field goals by Tom Vanderhorst of 30, 20 and 24 yards.
McCoy took the blame for not putting the ball in the end zone in the second half.
"Last week, I overthrew a couple of open receivers," he said. "This week, I underthrew a couple of guys. But we've got to do a better job of scoring when we're down close."
But McCoy was happy to share the load last night.
"To be successful, we felt we had to run the fullback," he said. "Our line opened up big holes and Dingle and Cannada did a great job and made my job easy. But tonight, we've really got to thank our defense. They gave us great field position all game long."
Next for Navy
Opponent: Southern Methodist
Site: Cotton Bowl, Dallas
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
.' Yesterday: Beat Arkansas, 31-9
Navy's Chris McCoy rushed for 83 yards last night to break the record for career rushing touchdowns by a Navy quarterback:
QB, years .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Yards
Chris McCoy, 1995-97 .. .. ...2,235
Alton Grizzard, 1987-90 .. ...2,174
McCoy also ran for three touchdowns last night to move into second place on Navy's career rushing touchdowns list:
Player, years .. .. .. .. ..Rush. .. .. .. ..TDs
Nap. McCallum, 1981-85 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..31
Chris McCoy, 1995-97 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .27
Joe Bellino, 1958-60 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .24
Pub Date: 9/14/97