ANNAPOLIS -- Navy coach George Chaump put it to Rodney Purifoy in the simplest of terms: What's it going to be, offense or defense?
Purifoy had been the Middies' No. 2 rusher with 620 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore in 1989, then was shifted to the defensive secondary last year after starting the first three games at tailback. But after spraining an ankle, preventing him from backpedaling, Purifoy never did get into a game as a defensive back, although he did return on occasion to the offense.
"When the switch first happened, I was honored because I would experience playing on both sides of the ball," Purifoy said. "Not many players are on offense and defense these days."
Unable to play against Army because he was hurt, Purifoy went into spring practice unsure of where he stood. Offense or defense? He and Chaump discussed it at length.
"It's your decision," Chaump said.
"OK, defense," Purifoy said.
When the switch was first made last season, Chaump felt he had other good running backs and needed Purifoy's speed in the defensive secondary. One running back left the academy and the other quit the team, but Chaump still likes the sight of Purifoy on defense.
"We need a lot of help on defense," Chaump said. "Purifoy has quickness, and helps us keep from getting burned."
From his starting cornerback spot, the 5-foot-7, 182-pound senior has made 25 tackles, the fifth highest total on the team. When he first went to defense, Purifoy was second team behind Bill Yancey, but now he and Yancey are the starting corners.
"The only bad part about defense is that everybody sees when you make a mistake," said Purifoy, a native of Fort Washington in Prince George's County and a graduate of Howard D. Woodson High in D.C. "That's a lot of pressure. Of course, this whole institution is pressure."
As the 0-3 Middies prepare to entertain Bowling Green Saturday, Chaump cites the defense as his main concern. Opponents have gained 1,244 yards to Navy's 801, including a 784-548 edge in rushing.
"We've got to fix the defense," Chaump said. "If we do, we'll be all right. In a nutshell, we've got to stop the big plays. Ball State made two, Virginia one and William & Mary two. If we do that, we will win."
To make it easier for the players, Chaump this week is reducing the defensive plays and coverages.
"We misjudged what they can execute," Chaump said. "We gave them too many things. We're simplifying it, giving them fewer things with the hope they can do them well."
* * A FIRST FOR GEORGE: The 0-3 start is the poorest ever for Chaump in his 10 years as a head coach. He spent four years at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, four at Marshall U. and is in his second season here.
"It's frustrating, but I'm still confident," Chaump said.
Bowling Green, on the other hand, is off to its best start (2-1) since 1985 when the Falcons went 11-0 and then lost to Fresno State in the California Bowl. Gary Blackney is in his first year as coach.
* ACCENT ON YOUTH: All of Navy's four TDs have been scored by sophomores -- three by fullback Brad Stramanak and one by quarterback Jason Van Matre. Van Matre leads the team in rushing with 177 yards.
The top receiver is plebe Tom Pritchard with nine catches for 134 yards. The second leading scorer behind Stramanak (18) is kicker Tim Rogers with 11 points.
* AHEAD IN BANGS: Chaump feels the benefit of Navy's weight training is reflected in an unusual statistic. The Middies lead their opponents in bangs, 13-1. A bang, Chaump explains, is when a player is hit so hard that he is shaken up and has to be temporarily removed from the game.