Three consecutive wins at a program where four has been achieved only twice in the past 25 seasons should be cause for celebration.
But the success of the Paul Johnson era at Navy has elevated expectations. After a mediocre performance in a 34-31 win against Kent State last week, Johnson was critical of himself because of the team's lack of emotion and perceived readiness to play.
Navy (3-2) travels to Houston to play Rice (0-5) today in a game rescheduled last month because of Hurricane Rita. Everyone associated with the program expects a better performance.
"I think it is definitely the captains' responsibility to make sure the team is ready to play," senior co-captain and defensive end Jeremy Chase said. "We should be ready [this week]."
This three-game stretch leading up to the Midshipmen's annual tussle with Notre Dame could be a defining one. After the Owls, Navy travels to Rutgers and plays host to Tulane. The Mids crushed the Scarlet Knights last season but lost to the Green Wave.
Navy finishes with two teams it will be favored against -- Temple and Army -- and one against which it won't: Notre Dame. While the Mids would love to roll into South Bend, Ind., on a six-game winning streak, they need at least one of these three upcoming games to retain more than a slim hope for bowl eligibility and two to feel comfortable.
Despite the Owls' poor record, the Mids will have to play better this week. Rice has lost to No.2 Texas, No.8 UCLA and a trio of mid-major teams (Alabama-Birmingham, East Carolina and Tulsa) with records of .500 or better.
While Rice's defense has been ravaged for 248 points in six games, the Owls' option-based offense has produced nearly 300 yards a game against stout competition.
"They have some good talent, but they are really young," Johnson said. "They are like us in a lot of ways. In fact, they might even be younger than us."
The opposition's offensive identity has ranged from run-first Air Force to pass-happy Kent State and back to the ground attack with the Owls. There also has been a different Navy secondary from week to week, and there will be more shuffling against Rice. Johnson said freshman Ketric Buffin, who practiced with the first unit Wednesday, could get his first start.
He played for the first time this season against Kent State, and would join junior DuJuan Price and sophomores Greg Thrasher and Keenan Little in a lineup that will be altered for the fourth consecutive game.
Last season against Rice, the Mids escaped with a 14-13 win because of a missed extra point. Then-backup quarterback Joel Armstrong ran for 86 yards for the Owls as they rallied from a 14-0 hole in the second half.
Armstrong, a sophomore, has been the Rice starter this season, but Owls coach Ken Hatfield announced freshman Chase Clement will get the nod today because Armstrong has been limited with a shoulder injury.
"We've given Joel's shoulder time to heal more," Hatfield said. "We'll take the pressure off of him. We'll let him do the things he does well, but he hasn't been able to throw the ball much this week."
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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