When Navy Coach George Welsh learned his two top quarterbacks would not be able to play in today's game against Syracuse because of injuries, he decided to simplify his offense by using five basic plays. Four were designed for tailback Eddie Meyers.
The result: Meyers ran for a record-breaking 298 yards, scored four touchdowns and led the Midshipmen to a 35-23 victory before 23,355, including a representative from the Holiday Bowl, at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.
Meyers also became Navy's all-time leading rusher with 2,620 yards, moving ahead of Cleveland Cooper, who had 2,582. Meyers' four touchdowns, on runs of 10, 5, 32 and 78 yards, tied another academy record and the 298 yards broke his own single game rushing record of 278, set two years ago against Army.
"The offensive line did a hell of a job," said Meyers. "I was able to do whatever I wanted."
"All it takes is a little block to spring Eddie," said tackle Bob Moore. "All we have to do is take our man any way he wants to go and Eddie does the rest."
Meyers, who missed all of one game and most of two others because of a thigh and knee injury, has ran for 1,003 yards this season for the Midshipmen (6-3). Only two other academy backs have ever rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a one season, Cooper and Joe Gattuso Jr. The single season record is Gattuso's 1,292 yards, set in 1977. Meyers has two regular season games remaining.
The 78-yard run was Meyers' longest as a collegian. He went 71 yards for a touchdown against William and Mary two weeks ago.
Meyers, who carried the ball 42 times, left Navy's last home game this season with five minutes to play, only to come back in after Syracuse scored its last points.
"I just wanted to make sure we got a first down," said Welsh.
After Meyers again went back to the sideline he realized he was only two yards short of 300 and said he asked Welsh if he could return to action once more, "but he said no because he was afraid I might get hurt. I guess 298 yards is enough for one day."
Joe Morris, Syracuse's all-time leading rusher, certainly didn't get enough yards today. He needed only 55 to reach 4,000 as a collegian, but was held to 54 on 23 carries.
"What a difference a week makes," said Welsh, whose team had been routed, 38-0, at Notre Dame seven days before. Meyers gained only 39 yards on 18 carries that day.
The quarterback who normally starts, Marco Pagnanelli, bruised his back and ribs against the Irish and his backup, Tom Tarquinio, injured his right ankle and Achilles' tendon, while safety Jeff Shoemake dislocated his left knee.
Welsh said he realized Thursday that Pagnanelli wouldn't be able to play and he knew all along Tarquinio was out. That left junior Jeff Korn, a 6-foot-3, 203-pounder from Williamsvile, N.Y. Korn had participated in only 15 plays all season, completing one of two passes and running once.
Today, he fumbled one snap from center that resulted in a Syracuse field goal, but other than that his play was virtually errorless. He completed four of nine passes for 46 yards, all in the first half, and gained four yards on six rushes.
"Once I knew I didn't have Pagnanelli or Tarquinio, I decided to run, run, run," said Welsh. "It's just too much to ask a third-string quarterback to pass the ball. Korn did exactly what we wanted him to do. He read the signals right, kept his poise and was mentally into everything he was doing."
Meyers lined up as a tailback most of the time and whether he ran to the left or right depended on how his tackles blocked.
"I'm seven yards deep when I'm at tailback and when I'm that far back I can see what's happening," Meyers said. "I read the blocks, saw how the defense reacted and then made my moves accordingly . . . I just ran the ball as hard as I could everytime I got it."
After Syracuse (2-6-1) took its 3-0 lead, theMidshipmen came back with a 90-yard drive. Meyers' backup, Rich Clouse, ran the last 15 yards for the touchdown, but Meyers ran six times for 46 yards and caught two passes for 13 in the drive.
Syracuse quarterback Dave Warner scored on a three-yard keeper early in the second quarter after Steve Fehr shanked a punt six yards, giving the Orangemen the ball at the Navy 37.
Navy got that touchdown back after Ed Koban fumbled a punt and Midshipman Ed Olson recovered at the Syracuse 13. Meyers scored two plays later on his 10-yard run and Navy never trailed again.
Morris fumbled and lost the ball at his 36 on his team's first possession of the second half, and two plays later Meyers burst off Moore's block, cut inside, reversed his field and went 32 yards for a touchdown. Fehr's extra point put Navy ahead, 21-10, then Meyers scored from five yards out later in the period and Navy took a 28-10 advantage into the final quarter.
Syracuse closed to 28-16 on Warner's 13-yard pass to Brent Ziegler early in the fourth period, but on Navy's next possession, Meyers swept right, cut back inside a block by tackle Keith Boring and outran the defensive backs on his way to a 78-yard touchdown.
Two of the nation's best kickers, Fehr and Syracuse's Gary Anderson, had mediocre days. Fehr had a slight hamstring pull and missed on his only field goal attempt, a 39-yarder, breaking his string of nine in a row. Anderson made his first kick, his 14th success in a row and 15th over two seasons, but missed on his second try, from 48 yards, which would have tied the NCAA record of 16 straight.
But this was Meyers' day.
"I've still got two games left," he said. "I might have a better game that this one in one of those. Who knows?"