Navy will get another chance to prove it belongs on the field with a team from a major conference and Houston will try to salvage something from a frustrating season in the third annual Garden State Bowl Sunday at Giants Stadium (12:30 p.m., WDCA-TV-20).
"We feel very fortunate to be here, considering the season we had," said Houston linebacker Steve Bradham, the team's leading tackler with 107 first hits. "We started off slowly, sort of righted ourselves and then went through another bad period. Teams had good game plans against us. They knew we were badly beat up from injuries and went right at our inexperienced people. We just never stopped making mistakes.
"We beat Texas Tech (34-7) to sew up this bowl game. The next day, we began thinking about Navy.We go to play Rice in our last game and they beat us (35-7). That's behind us now and since we've been thinking about Navy so long, we didn't have any problem preparing for them."
A bigger, quicker and more explosive team than Navy, Houston has been its own worst enemy all season, committing 49 turnovers. The defense yielded 17.3 points a game. The defensive line is anchored by 6-foot-7, 280-pound all-America tackle Leonard Mitchell; 6-5, 265-pound nose guard Hosea Taylor, and 6-4, 250-pound tackle Terry Monroe.
"Of the 190 points we gave up, 85 of them came after we lost the ball," said Cougar Coach Bill Yeoman, in his 19th year. "I'm disappointed in our season. We had a lot of injuries and we never could do much offensively. Beating Navy will not be easy.They beat a team heading for the Rose Bowl (Washington) rather easily. That should tell you something."
The one Navy player Houston defenders will watch closely is tailback Eddie Meyers. The junior needs only 43 yards to reach 1,000 for the season and he is confident he will reach that plateau.
"We're not worried about their size and I'm confident I'll get the 43 yards," Meyers said. "We realize Houston is a lot better than their record shows but we're playing pretty good right now."
After a one-point loss at Air Force left Navy at 3-2, a .500 season, much less a bowl bid, seemed like a dream.
But Coach George Welsh shifted a few bodies, several players got healthy and Navy won five of its last six games. Its only loss was a 33-0 decision to Notre Dame, also at Giants Stadium.
"I don't know what turned the team around," Welsh said. "I always thought we had a good team but we had our share of injuries, too. Houston is a good, strong team against the run and running is what we do best. So, our game plan is to run. It's too late to change what you've been doing all year."
The Cougars, operating out of the veer, are averaging 344 yards per game, Terald Clark, with 885 yards, Brent Chinn (543) and quarterback Terry Elston, with 1,202 rushing and passing, are the Cougars' top offensive threats.
Navy finished sixth in the nation in team defense, allowing an average of 223.3 yards a game. The Mids were fifth in scoring defense, giving up 10.1 points a game.
This will be the Mids' seventh bowl appearance, the last one coming two years ago when they defeated Brigham Young, 23-16, in the Holiday Bowl.