Successive defeats at the hands of Pittsburgh and Notre Dame have not only left Navy battered and bruised but have shaken the foundations of one of its major strengths -- the offensive line. "The last two weeks, we haven't blocked very well," Navy Coach George Welsh said today. "We did fine for the first six games, then . . . maybe we're playing better defensively now."
For sure. The Navy rushing game, which had averaged 226 yards in the Mids' opening six victories, found the going up front rugged against Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. Navy netted only 50 yards on the ground in a 24-7 loss at Pitt and 136 yards in a 14-0 defeat in South Bend last week.
With a scant passing attack and the running game suddenly stalled, it is little wonder Navy, which now has a 6-2 record, has scored only seven points in the last eight quarters. Quarterback Bob Powers has been inconsistent in the air, completing only 43 of 97 attempts (44 percent) for 614 yards and four touchdowns.
"We haven't been scoring, that's our problem," said Welsh. "We felt we were doing a little better on the ground against Notre Dame. Our offense just couldn't move. But we came out with a good mental attitude and we should be ready to play a good game Saturday."
Navy entertains high-scoring Syracuse (5-4) Saturday in an ABC regionally televised game at 12:40 p.m.
Welsh said linebacker Tom Paulk, who suffered an ankle sprain last week, will not play Saturday. Defensive tackle John Merrill (foot injury), tailback Mike Sherlock (hamstring), and defensive back Gregg Milo (knee) also will be out this week. However, defensive tackle Steve Chambers has recovered from a knee sprain and will start. Defensive back Chuck Zingler (foot) will play. Tailback Steve Callahan (knee) will be available for spot duty.
Welsh will welcome the added defensive strength against the offensive-minded Orangemen. Syracuse has totaled 3,618 yards for an average of 403 yards per game. It is scoring 28.1 points per contest.
Bill Hurley, who holds 15 Syracuse passing and total-offense records, has completed 57 of 118 passes for 929 yards and has rushed for 620 yards while scoring 10 touchdowns. His favorite passing target is wide receiver Art Monk, who has 31 catches for 451 yards.
Sophomore tailback Joe Morris (1,114 yards, six touchdowns) picked up 203 yards on 31 carries in Syracuse's 20-17 victory over Navy last year.
"All three -- Hurley, Monk and Morris -- can beat you," Welsh said. "The offensive line is good and they execute very well. It's hard to prepare for them in four days.
"All they run good play-action and three or four different types of option plays. Hurley makes them go.
"We're going to have to control the ball and score. I don't expect any 10-7 game."
For the Mids to be successful, the offensive front line of 6-foot-2, 215-pound tight end Curt Gainer; 6-5, 250-pound tackle John Taylor; 6-2, 246-pound guard Frank McCallister; 6-5, 250-pound center Rich Bott; 6-4, 240-pound guard Tom Feldman, 6-5, 247-pound tackle Rich Welch, and 6-4, 215-pound tight end Carl Hendershot must dominate. They did little against Pitt but were mildly successful against Notre Dame.
Navy, which plays Georgia Tech and Army after Syracuse, is hopeful for a bowl bid.
"I don't know if the players want to go to a bowl. We don't talk about that," said Welsh. "I'm sure that's enough incentive to play well Saturday. tIt's also the seniors' last home game, plus we've lost two straight. We've also lost two straight to Syracuse. I don't think the game on TV will hurt, either. The players should be ready to play."