NAVY MIDSHIPMEN (0-2) at
RICE OWLS (0-2)
Kickoff: 8 p.m. at Rice Stadium, Houston.
TV/Radio: TV: CSTV Pay-Per-View; Radio: 980-AM, 1090-AM, 1430-AM.
Last Meeting: The Midshipmen beat the Owls, 14-13, last year.
Series: Rice leads, 6-4.
Importance: This is a vital game for both teams if they want to win the required six games to be eligible to play in a bowl game, something the Midshipmen are looking to accomplish for the third consecutive year. Both teams faced tough competition early, as Rice was blown out by UCLA and Texas and Navy suffered three-point losses to Maryland and Stanford.
Outlook: The Midshipmen will look to rush the ball as successfully as they did against the Owls last year. Navy amassed 263 yards rushing and 79 passing to pull out a 14-13 victory, but only after Rice's place kicker missed an extra point with 4 minutes 41 seconds remaining.
Navy Coach Paul Johnson is concerned about the team's quarterback situation. Senior starter Lamar Owens suffered cramps in the second half in each of the first two games, forcing unproven junior Brian Hampton to step in. Owens is the superior quarterback; he has completed 17 of 29 passes for 260 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 130 yards on 29 carries. Hampton, who entered in the fourth quarter against Stanford, completed three of 10 passes for 55 yards.
"I would be lying if I said I wasn't [concerned about Lamar]," Johnson said. "We have to come up with another plan. He can't finish the game."
Navy orchestrates a triple-option attack that utilizes slot backs Marco Nelson and Karlos Whittaker. Nelson, a senior, gave the finest performance of his career against Stanford when he scored three touchdowns and finished with 34 yards rushing and 98 yards receiving. Whittaker, a freshman, had seven carries for 110 yards -- highlighted by a 44-yard touchdown run -- to become just the second plebe to rush for more than 100 yards in a game.
Rice will look to quarterback Joel Armstrong to guide a spread offense that features running backs Quinton Smith (15 carries, 96 yards), John Wall (eight carries, 72 yards) and Andrew Cates (14 carries, 58 yards) and receivers Jarrett Dillard (four catches, 113 yards) and Nick Aranda (three catches, 28 yards).
The Midshipmen's defense wilted in the second half in their first two games. Junior linebacker Rob Caldwell said the team's biggest problem was execution.
"Against both Stanford and Maryland we knew exactly what they were going to do, and we didn't make the play to stop them," he said. "That's what was frustrating. It's not like they surprised us by doing something we haven't seen."
-- Jon Gallo