In a season that has had few bright spots, winless Navy will be without its leading scorer this afternoon as it seeks its first win, against Bowling Green at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Fullback Brad Stramanak, who has scored a touchdown in each of the three losses by Navy (0-3), pulled a hamstring in practice Tuesday and will be out of action against the Falcons (2-1). Stramanak, who has rushed for 146 yards and scored 18 of Navy's 41 points, will be replaced by junior Mike Kozub.
Stramanak's absence leaves Navy without its main running threat in an offense already short of weapons.
In Bowling Green, Navy will be playing its second game against
TC Mid-American Conference opponent (The Midshipmen opened the season with a 33-10 loss to Ball State.)
After five straight losing seasons, new coach Gary Blackney apparently has turned the Falcons around. The only blemish in the 2-1 start -- Bowling Green's best since 1985 when it finished 11-1 -- is a 24-17 loss to West Virginia two weeks ago.
"I think our defense has played very well and we had very little to change from a year ago," said Blackney, who inherited eight returning defensive starters.
The defense was on the field a long time in last week's 20-16 win over Cincinnati, as the Bearcats ran 92 plays (compared with 67 for Bowling Green) and controlled the ball for seven more minutes. But inside linebacker Mike Calcagno (17 tackles, one interception) led a unit that held Cincinnati scoreless on two tries from the 1-yard line at the end of the first half, and limited the Bearcats to three points after a first-and-goal from the 1 in the second half.
Offensively, quarterback Erik White (39 completions in 71 attempts and five touchdowns) threw two scoring passes last week, and junior wide receiver Mark Szlachcic had seven catches for 71 yards.
Navy can only hope that neither breaks a big play like the two a week ago that contributed to the 26-21 loss to William & Mary. After watching scoring plays of 67 and 79 yards within three snaps go against his team, Navy coach George Chaump has installed a more simplified defense in an effort to avoid the big gainers.
"We have to remember the game is 60 minutes," Chaump said. "We play well about 70 percent of the time or more. The big thing we have to do is fix our defense -- if we fix our defense, we'll be all right."
Chaump is hoping that one of those big plays finally will go in his team's favor. Navy has had just one offensive play of more than 25 yards (Tom Pritchard's 41-yard reception against Ball State).
"We have to work awfully hard for everything we get," Chaump said. "Any team that can take 19 plays and go 80 yards to score [which Navy did against William & Mary] -- that's just indicative of our problems. Where a team that's fortunate enough to have a big-play maker can do it in less tries, we're not at a point where we can go with the big play to help us out offensively."
The game is Navy's second of a three-game homestand. After an open date next week, the Midshipmen will play host to Air Force on Oct. 12.