ANNAPOLIS -- All it took was one look into the eyes of Navy coach George Chaump after his team's 33-10 loss to Ball State Saturday.
"I thought we'd be a more improved ballclub," Chaump said after his team committed four turnovers, including a fumble inside the Ball State 1-yard line, in losing its home opener. "I couldn't predict some things surfacing that I feared. A lot of the youth of the ballclub came out tonight. I hope we grew up in this game, we learned by it and that we're improved as we go into our second game."
The game was by no means out of Navy's reach. Against a defense that ranked second in the country last year (222 yards per game), the Midshipmen racked up 209 yards at halftime and, although trailing, 21-10, were still in the game.
The collapse came in Navy's first series of the second half. Driving from its 45, Navy ran the ball 13 straight plays to the Ball State 1. But, on second-and-goal, Navy center Steve Palmer failed to get the snap to quarterback Jason Van Matre, and linebacker Don Stonefield recovered the ball in the end zone.
"It wasn't even a fumble. The ball was wet, and when [Palmer] snapped, the ball just stayed there," Chaump said. "Turnovers [Navy committed four] are your biggest enemy in football."
Turnovers are one of many problems for Navy. The defense allowed 388 yards in total offense, including 267 yards rushing to a team that had minus-8 in a loss to Miami University the previous week. Ball State tailback Corey Croom, whose previous career high was 73 yards, ran for 190 yards on 28 carries, including a 60-yard run during which he was untouched.
On offense, what was supposed to be a bulked-up line never stepped forward. Van Matre often had Ball State's four-man line in his face when he dropped back to pass. Navy completed eight of 21 passes, a far cry from the pass-happy philosophy favored by Chaump.
"They penetrated more and they were very aggressive," Chaump said. "We'll have to look at the films to see where we broke down. I thought we were a much improved pass-blocking team, but there was pressure on the quarterback and we have to go to work there.
"[Van Matre] moved the ballclub," Chaump added. "We have to find a passing attack suited to him. We started to get one-dimensional with the run, and we have to open it up with him running and passing."
One game doesn't make a season, but Saturday's loss may affect Navy's remaining games. Next week, it will face a tough test at Virginia, followed by a Sept. 21 home game against William & Mary, one of the top teams in Division I-AA. For a team that entered the season on an emotional high, the prospects of an 0-3 start of the season suddenly are real.
"We just hope something like this won't take the wind out of our sails," Chaump said. "I told the players after the game, 'Let's use it as a motivator, get mad about it and see what we're made of.'