Sure, reveling in the Naval Academy's unique gameday

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Sure, reveling in the Naval Academy's unique gameday atmosphere is great fun. But facing the dreaded wishbone offense is not.

"The double-slot wishbone that Navy runs is unique, and very tough to prepare for," said Kent State coach Dean Pees, whose squad will attempt to crack the wishbone Saturday night when the Flashes take on the Midshipmen at 7 p.m. in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. "They have an audible system where they take what the defense gives them based on how the defense lines up. So it's very difficult to defend."

It's also very difficult to comprehend for most coaches. But not Pees.

"I know the wishbone about as well as anyone who doesn't actually run it," said Pees. "I spent three years as an assistant (secondary coach from 1987-89) at Navy, and the offense is still the same today. Our defense faced it every day in practice and every year against Air Force and Army."

Pees and current assistant coaches Randy Bates (linebackers) and Mike Drake (assistant head coach), who coached together at Navy in '89, have been preparing the Flashes for the wishbone off and on since last summer.

The experience they bring to the table certainly should help. And, based on last year's outcome, Kent needs all the help it can get.

The Midshipmen effectively cut the Flashes to ribbons in last year's season finale, when they rolled up a mindboggling 635 yards of total offense _ including 563 yards on the ground _ to earn a decisive 62-29 victory.

Fortunately for Kent, quarterback Chris McCoy (268 yards rushing, 3 TDs vs. Kent in '97) and six other starters on offense graduated a year ago, leaving Navy with several holes to fill.

"Their personnel is not as good as it was last year, but it's adequate to run their offense," said Pees. "They have a first-year quarterback (junior Steve Holley) who will be a lot better at home in his second game this week."

Navy used a couple of big plays early on to jump out to a 14-3 lead, but was outscored 16-0 in the second half by Wake Forest in its season-opening 26-14 loss.

"They sucked the defense in with the run and threw over the top on both scoring drives," said Pees. "We can't let that happen. Normally I'd be mad if our defense gave up a 17-play scoring drive, but that won't bother me this week. We have to make them execute and drive the whole length of the field. We can't give up the big play."

Pees believes his defense and special teams have improved dramatically, even though both units gave up costly big plays in last week's loss to Youngstown State.

"Take that one (55-yard touchdown run) away, and we only allowed (256) yards to a pretty good offensive team," said Pees. "It's been a long time since a Kent defense held somebody under 300 yards. And our kicking game has vastly improved. I'm pleased with the effort, we just have to avoid the critical mistakes."

Pees also needs his offense to snap out of its early-season funk against a Navy squad that returns just one starter on defense from a year ago.

"We need to come out and assert ourselves on offense," said Pees. "We need to be consistent and control the ball, and show what type of offense we really have. I'm confident our offense will rise to the challenge."

While Navy is a challenge most coaches would just as well avoid, Pees is actually looking forward to a homecoming of sorts on Saturday.

"That's such a great atmosphere," said Pees. "I'm looking forward to watching the brigade march in again. I'll be as pumped up as Navy is."

Notes: Navy has won both previous meetings with the Flashes by a

combined score of 93-22 ... Kent senior wide receiver Eugene Baker

became just the 26th player in NCAA history to top the 3,000 mark in

career receiving yards last week ... Freshman DeMarlo Rozier, who

currently leads the Flashes with 86 yards rushing (5.1 yards per carry),

played the entire second half against YSU ahead of starter Charles

Chatman and finished with 119 all-purpose yards. But Chatman is still

the starter according to Pees. "We'll just play whoever's playing best

at the time. But Rozier is getting better." ... Freshman linebacker

Heath Hommel, who finished with five tackles against the Penguins, is

also moving up the depth chart. He's now the No. 2 middle linebacker and

is pushing current starter Matt Rayl ... Backup defensive back Sam Sharp

(sophomore) suffered a knee injury against YSU and is likely out for the

season ... Navy is a 21-point favorite according to

oddsmakers.

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