ANNAPOLIS -- When most Division I-A schools take on a I-AA opponent, it's usually marked as a win from the moment the game's scheduled. But the Naval Academy is unlike most I-A schools, as coach George Chaump found out last year when homecoming was ruined by an embarrassing 16-7 loss to James Madison.
"A game like this," Chaump said after that game, "makes you realize that it takes a major effort to get Navy where it should
It would seem, after Saturday's respectable showing in a 17-10 loss at Virginia, that Navy's on track to where it should be. But a real test will come Saturday when William & Mary, a I-AA power, visits Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Navy has been far from dominant against I-AA opponents the past five years. Navy has a 10-9 advantage in that span, including the disastrous 1989 season, when it went 0-3 under Elliot Uzelac.
Chaump was 3-1 against I-AA teams last year. With Navy losing its first two games, the game against William & Mary is just as big as taking on Notre Dame.
"To say if you win it doesn't mean anything -- it'll mean a lot to us," said Chaump when asked whether Navy is in a no-win situation against a I-AA opponent. "You respect them and fear them, knowing that everybody expects you to defeat them and, if you don't, it doesn't bear well on you."
The Midshipmen will face a William & Mary team that was ranked No. 3 in the country before Saturday's 28-21 loss to Delaware. In losing, the Tribe (1-1) dropped to No. 11, but a win over Navy -- the only I-A foe on its schedule this season, could help the team.
"We don't want to say one game's more important than another," said Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock, who was considered for the Navy job two years ago. "We're a I-AA going up against a I-A in Navy, with its history and the prestige. It's big."
The Tribe is coming off a 10-3 season. It advanced to the second round of the NCAA I-AA playoffs, where it lost to Central Florida, 52-38. In his 12th year at William & Mary, Laycock has had seven winning seasons in the past eight years -- with three NCAA playoff berths.
A key to the team's success has been the passing offense used by Laycock, a former quarterback at William & Mary. The team averaged 495.2 yards in total offense and 39.9 points a year ago (through two games this year, it's 483 and 34.5). The Tribe has had problems stopping people. Last year Virginia racked up 689 yards in offense in a 63-35 win, and through two games this year, the Tribe has allowed 438 yards per game and 25 points.
"They're an excellent football team offensively. I think offensively they can play with anybody," Chaump said. "They have an exceptional passer [Chris Hakel], they have good receivers, and they pass block exceptionally well. Their quarterback has not been sacked in two games."
William & Mary's apparent shortcoming on defense could be the remedy to Navy's offensive problems. The running game has been fine, but the team has completed just 12 passes for 148 yards in two games (starting quarterback Jason Van Matre is eight of 23 for 92 yards).
"We need more balance in our offense," Chaump said. "I don't think we can be one-dimensional and be good. And we're not very good right now.
"I think the 46 yards passing [against Virginia] is the lowest I can ever remember in my career of coaching," Chaump said. "The two games, 146, is probably the lowest two-game total. So, I guess we're going to have to do something about it."