ANNAPOLIS -- Navy senior offensive tackle Greg Hlatky was eating lunch and answering a few questions when he suddenly stopped.
"I don't know why we're so inconsistent with our line blocking," he said. "We can't make excuses. If we're going to beat Air Force -- if we're going to beat anybody -- we've got to be more consistent."
The assignment this weekend is to stop Air Force. It is the biggest game of the season for the Middies, to this point anyway.
The service academy with the best record among themselves wins the Commander-in-Chief's trophy and the automatic trip to the Liberty Bowl that goes with it.
Hlatky would like to win the trip, but mostly he'd be happy just beating Air Force. His brother David graduated an Academic All-America from Air Force in 1988. David had been part of four Falcons victories over the Midshipmen that has now reached eight.
"I've heard so much about that streak," said Navy's 6-foot-5, 254-pound tackle. "It's not as bad now that he's graduated, but enough is enough."
The streak, however, is just a sidelight. Navy coach George Chaump has bigger problems.
His team is 2-2, which at this point is not bad. But major questions are a dime a dozen.
"It's been so much to do," he said. "I haven't even had time to notice what it's like to be preparing for my first intra-academy game."
While his defense will have to stop Air Force's three-pronged wishbone attack, it was not his biggest problem of the week.
That involved quarterback Alton Grizzard, who has come under heavy criticism for throwing 10 interceptions, including five last Saturday.
"Alton stands in there and takes a lot of abuse," Chaump said after deciding to start Grizzard over backup Gary McIntosh Saturday. "It's been open season on quarterbacks everywhere. He's getting hammered after he throws the ball . . . But if I think it is necessary in the game, I'll be very willing to make a change. Gary is ready to play, and sometimes a change can pick up a team. The bottom line is we'll do whatever we have to do to win."
Chaump is not as critical of Grizzard as some others have been. He has made it clear teams win and lose, not individuals.
But he also made it clear Grizzard is not totally off the hook.
"He has to fess up and face up," Chaump said. "No. 1, he didn't have to throw the ball. No. 2, he didn't have to throw it there. But if you can't protect, it's no use blaming the guy who throws the ball."
Which brings all eyes to the offensive line. It, like everything else on this team, is adjusting to a coaching change. Chaump has taken the Middies out of the non-fulfilling wishbone into a multiple offensive set, which demands strong, straight-up pass blocking.
"At times we're pretty good and at other times, we're not good at all," Hlatky admitted. "But we're always trying hard, even though, sometimes, it doesn't look like it because we're doing dumb things.
"We're in that multiple set and we do just about everything out of it, I's, wing-T's, a little wishbone, you name it. It keeps the defenses guessing. The only problem is we're not executing like we should be. We just seem to be a little behind."
Chaump said yesterday he too thought his offensive line would be further along, but he blames its troubles, and some others, like delay of game penalties, on inexperience.
He also has had to shuffle his starters due to injury, including a sprained shoulder to left tackle Michael Davis last week.
"We lose one lineman, we lose a lot," said Chaump. "When a starter goes out, the guy who comes in isn't as big or as strong, which means the pass blocking is not as strong. We just have to face it. It's a new system and we just play the best we have and hope."