Navy returns from a week of healing to host its homecoming game Saturday, but the opponent is not exactly the cream puff most schools bring in to help showcase the home team before its graduates.
The Akron Zips may have looked like that on paper before streaking away to a 5-2 record that includes a three-game winning streak.
"They're going to present a lot of problems," said Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie. "They're doing some good things on both sides of the ball and their quarterback [James 'Butchie' Washington] is an outstanding player who makes a lot of things happen.
"It's a team capable of coming in here and beating us if we don't play up to our capability."
"Now, we've got a bunch of guys who think they're going to win," said Zips coach Lee Owens. "That gives us as much chance as anything else."
Navy (2-4) should be approaching full strength for the game with the expected returns of wide receiver Harry Spencer and slotbacks Terence Coleman and Jon Fay. Only starting offensive tackle Hoot Stahl (dislocated toe) is out for certain.
The Midshipmen are beginning to creep upward in the national defensive rankings, and Weatherbie is especially happy at being ranked No. 24 in turnover margin (0.50 a game).
The improvement, he says, can be attributed to the 3-4 alignment installed by defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter and more experience on the defensive unit.
"We've got young men who were freshmen and sophomores a year ago and they're a year older and better," Weatherbie said. "That really helps their confidence. And the scheme really helps us to not give up the big play."
Navy is ranked 47th in total defense despite allowing 487 yards to Georgia Tech and Joe Hamilton in a 49-14 season-opening defeat.
Tribute to Romo
A special memorial tribute to the academy's late athletic trainer, Leon "Red" Romo, will be held at the academy chapel at 8: 45 a.m. Saturday.
Scheduled to speak are retired Rear Adm. Tom Lynch, captain of the 1964 Cotton Bowl team; Edwin Oldman, captain of the 1958 Cotton Bowl champions; Phil McConkey, captain of the 1978 Holiday Bowl champions; Kevin Sinnett, captain of the 1978-79 basketball team, former athletic director Capt. J.O. "Bo" Coppedge and current AD Jack Lengyel.
Roger Staubach, the 1963 Heisman Trophy winner at Navy and later an All-Pro with the Dallas Cowboys, is also expected to attend.
Navy has established a scholarship fund in memory of Romo, who died in July. Donations can be made to the Red Romo Scholarship Fund at the Naval Academy Athletic Association, Ricketts Hall, 566 Brownson Road, Annapolis 21402.
Lengyel is a 1958 graduate and former player at Akron. "It was he who wanted to schedule these guys," Weatherbie said. The Zips played against a similar triple-option offense in Ohio University and won, 41-28. "That does help," Owens said. McConkey, who played for the New York Giants, will also handle the commentary on Saturday's Navy broadcast.