Navy defense hopes to rise to occasion Murphy's unit seeks better numbers


For Navy defensive coordinator Dennis Murphy, how well he hTC sleeps on Saturday night is determined by how well his team plays that afternoon. So what's your guess on how Murphy slept after his team was beaten by Virginia, 38-0, last week?

"If I'm troubled mentally, I don't sleep well," Murphy said. "But last Saturday night, I went to bed and I slept."

Murphy slept well because, against a more talented opponent, Navy's defense played relatively well. And he's hoping he'll get a chance to sleep really well on Saturday night when the Midshipmen play host to Eastern Illinois, a Division I-AA team that committed nine turnovers last week in a 49-7 loss to McNeese State.

What any coach looks for from the season opener to the second game is the ironing out of mistakes. Those are the expectations of Murphy, who is in his second year at Navy (last year as the defensive line coach) after 10 years at Maryland as the defensive line coach.

"We made a big improvement from week one to week two last year," said Murphy of Navy, which was a 28-0 loser to Boston College in week two after suffering a 53-0 loss to Virginia in the season opener. "That's our goal again."

Going into the season, the Navy defense was the main concern of coach George Chaump. There were some returning veterans in the secondary, but the defensive line was viewed as inexperienced.

But Navy displayed some improvement when last week's game is compared with the Virginia game of last year -- despite the two shutout defeats. Whereas a year ago, Navy gave up six plays of 20 or more yards, there were only three on Saturday (but all for touchdowns). A year ago, Virginia punted the ball just three times, and this year, the Cavaliers had six punts.

"The score's not going to always be the sole indicator on how well the game is played," said Grover Favors, a junior strong safety. "A year ago, we didn't know that well, defensively, what we were doing. We felt helpless that they were scoring.

"[Virginia] didn't punch us to the ground," Favors said. "We wanted to stop the run and, for the most part, we did."

If the improvement of Navy is really as good as the team believes, look for the defense to come up with big plays against Eastern Illinois in the first meeting between the two schools. The nine turnovers by the Panthers were a school record, with seven of those thrown by starting quarterback Jeff Thorne.

"The turnovers were devastating," said Eastern Illinois coach Bob Spoo. "I don't think [Thorne's play] is indicative of just how good he is. He's very capable and he's a real competitor."

The Navy defenders realize that about Thorne, a four-year starter at Eastern Illinois.

"Our job out there is to contain their quarterback, that's what McNeese State did," Murphy said. "We don't want to underestimate Eastern Illinois. They have size, and we have our hands full with their offensive line."

NOTES: DT Ty Renick, who made his first start last week, will be out two to three weeks after suffering a sprained knee. He'll be replaced by Stacey Yopp, who started one game last year. "Stacey Yopp can perform," Murphy said. "I have to get him to play better all the time, instead of in peaks and valleys." . . . DB Cory James, who also suffered a sprained knee, is doubtful. . . . LB Javier Zuluaga was selected to the Eastern College Athletic Conference Division I-A All East weekly honor roll for his 12-tackle performance against Virginia. Zuluaga averaged 13.3 tackles a game last season, which ranked 15th in the nation.

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