There was perhaps one plus for Navy in the thrashing it suffered at the hands of Notre Dame last week.
Buried underneath the debris strewn over the Astro Turf at Giants Stadium by the Fighting Irish was the improved play of Navy defensive end Mike Rouser. Since being promoted to a starting berth four games ago, the 6-foot-1, 212-pound junior has been among the leaders in tackles and key defensive plays.
Notre Dame amassed 331 net yards rushing on 73 carries but Rouser was in on nine tackles and intercepted a pass at the Navy goal line to stop a near-certain Irish score. Rouser also had two sacks for 19 yards in losses.
"He has worked hard and I'm not surprised at this play," said Coach George Welsh yesterday. "He's quick, very aggressvive and has improved a lot since spring practice. He doesn't look like the natural football player but once he's on the field he plays like one."
The Washington Post defensive player of the year at Seneca High School three years ago, Rouser "arrived" as a college player when he had 12 unassisted tackles, one sack and deflected a pass in Navy's victory over Boston College.
Rouser played even better in Navy's stunning triumph over Washington two weeks ago, tallying 14 tackles, one sack and causing a fumble.
"I knew I had a shot at starting this year because three senior ends graduated," Rouser said. "That made me work harder. I learned a lot playing behind them.I thought I had a good spring (practice) but I knew I had to become more consistent."
Rouser is third on the team in tackles with 58. He has seven sacks, two interceptions and as many broken-up passes. His sparkling play is coming at just the right moment.
Navy has been hit extremely hard by injuries and Welsh has been forced to dig deep into his reserves to field a team the last two weeks. Notre Dame sent a few more bodies to the Mids training room. There will be little letup; Navy (5-3) faces another physical team in Syracuse (4-4) Saturday at the Carrier Dome.
"We've run out of tackles and I'm not sure we have enough talent left to win our next two (against syracuse and Georgia Tech)," Welsh said. "Our defensive line is gone and that makes it tough to win."
Rouser and his battered mates, burned for 211 yards by Notre Dame tailback Jim Stone, will see another of the nation's top runners in Joe Morris this week.
"Morris is in another world in terms of quickness," Welsh said. "He accelerates and has a lot of strength for a little guy (5-8). He's going to find some cracks and get some yards, we just hope he doesn't get too much. If he gets 200 yards and makes a few long runs, we'll have a problem."
Even if the defense keeps Morris under wraps the Navy offense must put points on the board. Notre Dame limited Navy to 130 total yards and Syracuse, smoldering following its 43-6 trouncing by Pittsburgh Saturday, still has hopes of obtaining a bowl bid.
"Our defense is not exceptionally good but we are a little better than we've been," said Syracuse Coach Frank Maloney. "Fortunately, we haven't had any injuries on defense."
Freshman linebacker Andy Tonseigo will get his first start Saturday. He replaces Ted Dumbauld, whose hand is broken. John Foley will start for quarterback John Ross (sprained knee) while Mark Woodhouse starts at defensive tackle. Seven Navy starters will not play against Syracuse. . . The Orangemen are averaging 329.6 yards per game but have allowed 362.6. Navy averages 320 but has surrendered only 242.8 yards per contest. The Orange have beaten the Mids 12 times in 17 meetings, including the last three years.