After replacing starting quarterback Brian Broadwater with sophomore Brian Madden in the middle of a series late in the third quarter of Saturday night's 20-17 loss at Rice, Navy Coach Charlie Weatherbie indicated this week that the team's recent offensive woes could result in more platooning of the quarterbacks during games, beginning with Saturday's at West Virginia.
"I think there's definitely an opportunity to do that," said Weatherbie, whose team has a 1-3 record, with Air Force awaiting after the Mountaineers. "A spark can get you ignited every once in a while. If you bring one guy in with a hot hand, and the other guy maybe doesn't have the hot hand that day, it can definitely be to our advantage."
Weatherbie is no stranger to a two-quarterback system. He used Ben Fay and Chris McCoy in 1995 and 1996, and the Midshipmen produced under both. In Weatherbie's first 42 games as head coach, the team averaged 29.2 points per game. In the past seven, it has averaged 18.6. The Midshipmen have scored two touchdowns or less in five of their past seven games, often breaking down inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
And this season, Navy has converted on just one-third of its third-down opportunities, while opposing teams have converted on more than half.
While Weatherbie has stated repeatedly that he removed Broadwater from the game against Rice because Broadwater was "dinged up," Broadwater insists he was healthy, and that the move was more strategic.
"The coaches are just looking for a spark right now," Broadwater said. "Our offense hasn't been putting very many points on the board. The defense has kept us in the games and given us a chance to win, and the last two games we've come up short. I think they're just looking for someone to step up and make plays."
The Midshipmen have scored a touchdown on the opening drive of three of their four games, and missed a short field goal in the other. The rest of those games has been another story. Navy has generated 18 percent of its total offense this season on its opening drives. Excluding a blowout win over Kent, that percentage jumps to a staggering 24 percent.
"We always come out on fire, but then that fire dies," fullback Raheem Lambert said. "We just don't have the killer instinct."
Last Saturday, after taking a quick 14-0 lead, Navy didn't reach the end zone again. Madden, whose only other appearance this season had come at the end of the rout against Kent, entered with the score tied at 17. He replaced Broadwater on the second play of a drive and led Navy on two possessions, one of which ended in a fumble and the other a punt.
"It was kind of surprising going in in the middle of a series," Madden said. "I thought maybe I'd go in fresh. I'm not sure what happened."
Said Broadwater: "Brian's a real tough runner. I might not be able to run through people as well as he does. He's a bigger, stronger runner than I am. I think I have a little more experience and awareness than he does, but he's young."
Quarterbacks coach Mitch Ware said the switch was no spur-of-the-moment decision.
"We had planned on playing Brian [Madden] last week before we even went into the game," Ware said. "He knew it and Broadwater knew it. We had just decided that he's got some things to add. It's one of those situations where we feel like he needs to be played some. He's in the plans."
Ware said Broadwater has been "pretty good" in terms of making the run-or-pitch decisions that are critical in Navy's option-oriented offense. He added: "I just think Brian needs to improve overall, just a little bit in every area. I think his best games are still out there. I expect him to throw the ball a little better than he has the past couple weeks, and I think he will."
In his past two games, Broadwater has completed 7 of 21 passes for 110 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception.