Yes, the season's still young, but today's 1:30 p.m. game against William & Mary, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, is Navy's biggest of the season.
The Midshipmen (0-2) were competitive in last week's 17-10 loss at Virginia, but now they face the pressure of being the favorite -- at least to the Navy followers -- against one of the top Division I-AA teams in the nation.
William & Mary is ranked No. 11 in the country in the I-AA poll, dropping from No. 3 after last week's 28-21 loss to Delaware (that broke a 19-game home winning streak for the Tribe). Despite the loss, William & Mary possesses an explosive offense that has averaged 483 yards and 34.5 points.
"They know how to move the ball," said Navy coach George Chaump. "They have some good football players, and they can beat you."
The man behind the ball movement is senior quarterback Chris Hakel, the No. 3 all-time offensive leader at William & Mary, who has completed 51 of 73 passes for 649 yards and three touchdowns. His passing numbers alone are more than the 491 yards in total offense the Midshipmen have recorded in two losses.
"[Hakel] is a good quarterback and has good ability to get the ball downfield," said William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock.
In the backfield, Robert Green (Friendly High School, Fort Washington) is averaging 88 yards rushing and will be going up against a defense that is allowing 284 per game.
A big problem for Navy has been its inability to pass the football (12 completions in 35 attempts, for 148 yards), and today might be as good a time as any to come out of that rut. While the Tribe has a potent offense, its defense (allowing 25 points and 438 yards per game) could be considered suspect. The Tribe allowed an average of 25 points and 438 yards in total offense in two games, with opposing quarterbacks completing 68.8 percent of their passes (33 completions in 48 attempts, for five touchdowns).
Jason Van Matre again will get the call at quarterback, but don't be surprised if Chaump goes with backup Brian Ellis should the offense fail to get untracked. Ellis is the better passer of the two and, against a defense not as big as Virginia's or Ball State's, might better benefit from what should be good pass protection.
"We do have to get our quarterback in there passing," Chaump said. "I think we'll get better as we go along."
A big passing game from Navy wouldn't surprise Laycock, who has seen many offensive variations in the two Navy tapes he has seen this year.
"I don't know what to expect," Laycock said. "They've been so unpredictable as far as different formations. They did a good job moving the football against Virginia."
NOTES: Eighteen members of Navy's 1941 team will be on hand as part of their 50th anniversary. The team will present AD Jack Lengyel the game ball from the 1941 Army-Navy game, won by Navy, 14-6. . . . William & Mary's last win over a I-A team occurred in Annapolis against Navy, 27-12, in 1987. The Midshipmen were held to 165 yards in total offense in that game, which was the last meeting between the schools.