Navy, Tulsa match-up features passing game against running game

Friday, September 22nd 2006, 3:48 am
By: News On 6

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) _ Tulsa head coach Steve Kragthorpe watched the tape of the Navy-Stanford game late Sunday night and saw a Navy team that came together in all facets of the game _ offense, defense and special teams.

Kragthorpe said Navy's triple-option offense, which seemed slightly out of sync against East Carolina and Massachusetts, started clicking in the second half against Stanford.

``Navy presents a lot of problems with its option. We have a lot of work to do in a short period of time,'' said Kragthorpe, noting that Tulsa traveled on Thursday. ``I think it helps to have played Navy before. You don't understand on film how hard, how fast, they play.''

Navy is meeting Tulsa for the second time in three years. The Midshipmen stunned the Golden Hurricane 29-0 in 2004, one of many disappointing defeats in a 4-8 campaign for Tulsa in Kragthorpe's second year at the helm. The Golden Hurricane rebounded in 2005, going 9-4 and capturing the Conference USA championship. A 31-24 victory over Fresno State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl capped their turnaround season.

Tulsa, which returns 43 letterman and 18 starters, was picked to repeat as Conference USA champs in a preseason poll of head coaches. The Golden Hurricane are off to a 2-1 start, having scored easy victories over Stephen F. Austin (45-7) and North Texas (28-3) while suffering a lopsided loss to BYU (49-24).

``I think they're a very good football team. They will be one of the better teams we play this year. It will be a huge challenge,'' said Navy head coach Paul Johnson, whose team is 3-0 and has won six straight dating back to last season.

Saturday's meeting shapes up as a classic battle between a potent passing team and a powerful rushing squad. Navy ranks second nationally with 346 yards rushing per game while Tulsa stands 17th with an average of 280 yards passing.

Tulsa quarterback Paul Smith has completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 677 yards and six touchdowns. Smith was outstanding in 2005, completing 62 percent of passes for 2,847 yards and 20 touchdowns while being named Most Valuable Player of the Liberty Bowl.

``(Smith) has a very strong arm and knows where to go with the football. He makes great decisions,'' Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green said. ``He's completing an incredible percentage of passes. He does a great job of reading coverages and doesn't make bad throws.''

Outside linebacker David Mahoney (23 tackles), inside linebacker Rob Caldwell (20 tackles) and right end John Chan (three sacks) are key figures on a Navy defense that ranks 101st in the country against the pass. The Mids will be without starting free safety DuJuan Price (pulled quad) and could also be without starting rover Ketric Buffin (sprained ankle).

Johnson was impressed that Tulsa held North Texas to 79 total yards in last Saturday's 28-3 victory.

``That's total for the game. I haven't heard of anybody doing that in a long time. They fly around (on defense) and they have a lot of experience.''