ANNAPOLIS -- Even though Virginia defeated Navy, 56-14, last season and enters this week's game as a 29-point favorite, Cavaliers coach George Welsh has come up with a ploy that he hopes will keep his team sharp Saturday.
"I think there's always an early-season game to determine your season," Welsh said yesterday. "Last year it was Clemson, and two years ago it was Penn State.
"This year, it's Navy."
"I think this is one of the early-season games that will say a lot about our year," Welsh said.
The only link that Saturday's game has with the previous Clemson and Penn State contests is that they were all the second game of the season. The Cavaliers were underdogs in both those games, but came out with two emotional wins (14-6 for the team's first win over Penn State in 1989, and a 20-7 victory over Clemson that stopped a 29-game losing streak against the Tigers).
To get up for Navy, Virginia only need remember that it fumbled six times (losing four) and could generate little offense in its season-opening loss at Maryland, 17-6.
"Games like that are tougher mentally and emotionally than games in which you are blown out," said Welsh, a former Navy coach. "I think we can execute better, it comes down to that."
George Chaump's Navy team is coming off a 33-10 loss to Ball State. The turning point was a fumble on the Ball State 1-yard-line on Navy's first drive of the second half with the Midshipmen trailing, 21-10.
"The film's better than the game -- it's not as bad as the final score," said Chaump. "There were a lot of things a lot of people did well. There's not anything we can't correct to become a good football team."
It would be easier for the Midshipmen to correct things against an opponents like, say, Cincinnati. In last year's game against them at Virginia, the Cavaliers piled up 664 yards of total offense, including 406 yards rushing.
Sure Virginia is without All-America quarterback Shawn Moore (four passing touchdowns, two rushing in just over two quarters against Navy) and all-everything wide receiver Herman Moore (three catches, two touchdowns). But running backs Nikki Fisher (nine carries, 100 yards) and Terry Kirby (14 rushes, 92 yards) return, as does offensive and defensive lines with a huge size advantage over Navy (offensive tackle Ray Roberts is 6-6, 300 pounds).
Chaump will need better play from his offense, which played as if it had new starters in ten of 11 positions. Quarterback Jason Van Matre, in his first game at quarterback, faced a constant rush after breakdowns in what was supposed to be an improved offensive line.
"Execution in the ballgame is different than practice. In a ballgame, there is excitement and anxiety, and you make mistakes you can't predict," Chaump said. "You can have a great player who doesn't have experience in a game, and in the heat of battle something happens to you. It just seems that everybody took turns drawing blanks."
Despite the poor performance, Chaump plans no changes in the starting lineup against Virginia. He added that the performance he has seen in practice this week indicates that the players have put the Ball State defeat behind them.
"They worked hard Monday and Tuesday night, and I think the mental attitude of the football team is great," Chaump said. "They played hard and hustled [against Ball State]. If they keep up that attitude, good things will happen."