The Naval Academy will try to extend its home winning streak to nine games today, taking on Syracuse at 1:30 p.m. in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in a scenario familiar to both teams.
Maryland will be trying to rid itself of a dubious streak when it plays Tulane in the Lousiana Superdome tonight at 8:30. The Terrapins (3-4-1) are winless against their five nonconference opponents this season.
Two other Washington-area teams, Howard and Virginia, are idle.
In 1977, Navy won its first four home games, but lost to Syracuse late in the season. After that, the Midshipmen went on another streak, winning seven in a row at home, before losing to Syracuse in Annapolis again, in November 1979.
The losses to Syracuse are Navy's only home defeats in five seasons; Navy is 20-2 in Annapolis since 1977. A victory for the Midshipmen (5-3) over Syracuse (2-5-1) this afternoon -- in their final home game this season -- would not only prolong that streak, but keep the academy in contention for a postseason bowl berth.
Navy and Syracuse are alike in many ways. Both rely on a straight-ahead rushing attack and strong defensive line play. Neither is particularly sophisticated passing, although Syracuse has one of the nation's fastest receivers in Willie Sydnor. Both have place-kickers being watched by National Football League scouts.
The principal characters in the game are tailback Joe Morris, Syracuse's all-time leading rusher, and Navy tailback Eddie Meyers, who is averaging more than 100 yards a game rushing.
Morris, with 840 yards on 188 carries this season, has 3,945 yards as a collegian, placing him 15th on the NCAA's all-time rushing list. The 5-foot-7 Morris was disappointing in his other trip to the area this fall, when he was held to 39 yards in 18 carries by Maryland's fourth- ranked defense against the rush in a 17-17 tie.
Navy's defense against the run has been fairly sound, also, allowing 122 yards a game.
The Midshipmen have a slightly more diverse running attack. Meyers, with 705 yards, is their best weapon. But running back Napoleon McCallum and quarterback Marco Pagnanelli are capable of running against the Orange, which is allowing opposing backs 170 yards a game.
Sydnor, who runs the 100-yard dash in 9.4 seconds, has caught 24 passes for 310 yards. His two fourth-quarter touchdowns erased Maryland's 14-point lead. Sydnor is expected to start, but a sprained ankle kept him from playing last week.
Navy Coach George Welsh said his team's passing has improved in recent weeks. Pagnanelli has completed 59 percent of his 102 passes, but has only one touchdown. His primary receiver has been Greg Papajohn, with 25 catches for 319 yards.
If the game is decided by kicking, neither team would appear to have an edge. Navy's Steve Fehr is tied for second in the nation, with 15 field goals in 19 attempts. Syracuse's Gary Anderson is tied for 10th, having made all 13 of his tries. Anderson has kicked 14 straight field goals over two seasons. The NCAA record is 16.
Tulane Coach Vince Gibson is making no secret of how he plans for his Green Wave (3-5) to attack Maryland tonight in New Orleans. "We're going to throw the football," Gibson said yesterday. "Anybody who has beaten (or tied) Maryland has thrown the football."
Gibson said quarterback Paul Cantanese probably will throw more than the team's average of 26 passes a game, since the Terrapin secondary is allowing 282 yards a contest.
Tulane played in the Hall of Fame Bowl in Gibson's first season as coach. But the Green Wave lost 24 seniors, most of them starters, and had trouble finding adequate replacements early this season when they lost their first four games.
Tulane committed 15 turnovers in those games and six more last week in an unexpected loss to Cincinnati.
"I expect we'll have a rough time against Maryland," Gibson said. "Maryland's just like us, they've lost a lot of close games by making too many mistakes."
The Terrapins are favored by a touchdown and expect to start quarterback Boomer Esiason (jammed neck) and tailback Charlie Wysocki (bruised left shoulder).