- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 21, 2002

ANNAPOLIS (AP) Northwestern and Navy probably view one another in much the same manner very beatable.
In fact, today's game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is one neither team can really afford to lose.
Navy (1-1), which claims to be vastly improved under first-year head coach Paul Johnson, can take a significant step forward by beating a young and struggling Northwestern squad at home.
To a man, the Midshipmen feel now is the time to snap a streak of 10 straight losses at home. Coming off an embarrassing 65-19 defeat at the hands of North Carolina State, Navy's captains called a players-only meeting to address the importance of today's contest.
"This is a pivotal point in the season. We're 1-1 with one good game and one bad game and things could go either way from here," defensive captain Josh Brindel said. "I think these next few weeks will define our season. We can either rebound from that bad loss or we can give up and do nothing."
It's a similar story on the other side. If Northwestern (1-2) is to complete a turnaround from a pair of blowout losses to start the season, it must beat a Navy club that has dropped 19 of its last 21 games.
Any gains the Wildcats made in last Saturday's 26-21 victory over Duke could be wiped out with a loss to a team that ranked among the nation's worst in 2000 and 2001.
Navy's innovative offense and Northwestern's porous rush defense figure to be the focus in this one. The Wildcats start nine freshmen or sophomores on defense.
Meanwhile, Johnson's triple-option attack, directed by quarterback Craig Candeto, has the Mids ranked seventh nationally in rushing offense at 268 yards per game.
"I'm impressed by the way Navy has moved the ball on the ground, and it's true we haven't stopped the run on a consistent basis," Northwestern head coach Randy Walker said. "Navy is probably licking its chops after seeing the Air Force film."
Air Force, which also runs option, shredded Northwestern for 482 yards rushing in a 52-3 rout on Aug. 31. Johnson thinks that experience in playing "assignment" football will help the Wildcats' defense.
"This is not their first game against an option team. They can look at what happened [in the Air Force loss] and correct those errors, make adjustments," Johnson said. "I've seen [the Wildcats] on tape and they aren't making the same mistakes they were earlier in the season."
Yet Walker cautions that Navy's option is not identical to that employed by its service academy rival.
"It is similar in some ways to Air Force, but at the same time not similar. Yeah, they look alike in many respects, but they do some things differently and have a different approach," Walker said. "Paul has kind of put his own spin on this attack, so it's going to be a little bit different for us."
After averaging less than 250 total yards and committing seven fumbles in its initial two games, the Northwestern offense made strides against Duke. Junior Jason Wright rushed for 107 yards and the Wildcats did not lose a fumble. Also, redshirt freshman Brett Basanez emerged from a three-way quarterback battle by completing 21 of 34 passes for 245 yards. He showed he could throw downfield by connecting with Jon Schweighardt for receptions of 38 and 34 yards, but also tossed two interceptions and threw into coverage on several other occasions.
"When they haven't turned the ball over a bunch, they've played very well," Johnson said. "I feel like they can embarrass us if we don't play well defensively."
Walker thinks Navy will apply pressure in an attempt to rattle Basanez.
"They've blitzed over 50 percent of the time their first two ballgames. They are very aggressive and assertive, they come at you in a variety of ways," he said.
Northwestern is the first Big Ten team to ever visit Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The two schools were supposed to play last season in Evanston, Ill., but the contest was canceled in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks and never made up.


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