For more than a year, everyone wanted to know: Why can't Navy win a game?
Now, the question for coach Paul Johnson and the Mids is: What will you do for an encore?
It's a much better position to be in, but the challenge will still be tremendous this week as Navy prepares for its home opener against North Carolina State. The Wolfpack is ranked No. 21 in this week's Associated Press poll and won't be looking past the Midshipmen after watching them dismantle SMU, 38-7.
"They are very athletic, they have a lot of guys that can run," Johnson said. "They have an All-American quarterback that is a guy they are touting for the Heisman. It's going to be a tremendous challenge."
While SMU freshman quarterback Tate Wallis didn't put much pressure on Navy's inexperienced secondary, there is no doubt N.C. State junior quarterback Phillip Rivers will. In wins over New Mexico and East Tennessee State, he's gone 25-for-36 for 421 yards and thrown three touchdowns. In a little more than two years as the starter, Rivers has thrown for 6,061 yards and 44 touchdowns.
"He's a good player. A real competitor," Johnson said. "I think he makes it happen for them. He makes plays. You have to get some pressure on him, but you've got to pick your spots, because he's been around the block. I mean, he knows how to hit his hot receivers and dump-offs. He's a pretty smart guy. He's seen a lot of stuff, so you can't just line up and blitz him every time or he'll kill you."
Navy might have somewhat of an advantage in defensive coordinator Buddy Green. Just last season, Green was the defensive coordinator at N.C. State, so there will be few secrets when the two teams get together.
"I imagine it helps that [Green] knows their players, but you can look at the film and see their system," Johnson said. "I would imagine they know his system too; they've played against it."
Vaughn Kelley has a little added incentive this week. N.C. State's starting tailback, Greg Golden, was a teammate of Kelley's at Thomas Aquinas High School in Coconut Creek, Fla.
"It's about bragging rights," Kelley said. "We know they've probably got one of the best quarterbacks we'll see this year, but we want to show them we're going to be one of the best secondaries they'll face this year. We want to go to a bowl game, so playing well in this game is the next step."
Kelley, a sophomore, has been a big bright spot for Navy this season. After entering the fall third on the depth chart at right corner, he played his way into a starting spot and gives the Mids some size (he's 6 feet 1) and speed on defense. Against SMU, both Kelley and left corner Shalimar Brazier did a nice job harassing SMU's receivers, something they will need to do against N.C. State.
"I'm really excited for this game," Kelley said. "It's a big-time game against a ranked team and it's at home in front of our crowd. My parents are going to be there, which is great. I've been talking on the phone every night with my dad. He was saying how proud he was, but at the same time telling me that I have to keep working hard."
NOTES: Navy says there has been no decision on how long defensive lineman Steve Adair will be out. Adair didn't make the trip to Dallas after he was suspended for "violating academy rules." ... Lenter Thomas, Navy's starting strong safety, was back practicing yesterday. He had to come out of the game in the first quarter with a knee injury against SMU and did not return. Johnson said Thomas is expected to play. ... Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said the N.C. State game is on pace to be a sellout. On display will be the newly renovated seats and the scoreboard.
Next for Navy
Opponent: No. 21 North Carolina State (2-0)
Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
When: Saturday, noon
TV/Radio: No TV/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)
Line: N.C. State by 18