Navy opens its home football season tomorrow night at 7 against the Panthers of Eastern Illinois at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.
The Division I-AA visitors, a preseason pick to finish last in the Gateway Conference or to be the sleeper, is led by seventh-year coach Bob Spoo.
They come in with a 1-1 record to date, having lost to McNeese State last week, 49-7, after winning their opener at Murray State, 34-17.
During the weeks leading up to the 1993 football season, the challenge facing Navy was to rebound successfully from two disastrous seasons. Working from a proud tradition, the challenge was unquestionably a real one, testing the patience, determination and talent of all concerned.
Tomorrow night's game, however, presents a somewhat different kind of challenge to coach George Chaump and his staff then originally anticipated. Would you believe overconfidence?
Maybe this is a little strong, and denials abound, but after holding their own against a top-rated and physically superior Virginia team last week, the young Mids could subconsciously ++ be counting this one in the bag.
No one is more aware of this kind of undercurrent then Chaump, a veteran coach who has faced similar challenges during winning seasons. Every bit of strategy is coming into play to keep the Mids' feet on the ground -- a must tomorrow night.
Let's look at the visitors from Charleston, Ill.
Playing Division I-A teams five times since 1989, Eastern Illinois has won on one occasion, beating Akron, 27-16. In their one-back offense, seven starters return from 1992, including four-year starter quarterback Jeff Thorne. He now ranks third overall in Panther career listings in pass completions (416), career touchdown passes (35) and total passing yardage (5,177).
However, against McNeese State last week he had seven interceptions. Tailback Willie High is their running threat, covering 172 yards in their opener and rushing for 73 last week.
Fullback Bill Korosec has proven to be a tough inside runner who is trying to recapture his 1992 form when he scored 11 touchdowns. The Panthers' offense is potentially explosive, but turnovers the past two weeks have nullified big gains.
Defensively, the Panther focus will center on All-Conference cornerback Ray McElroy and linebackers Shavez Hawkins and Tim Carver. Hawkins and Carver combined to make 212 tackles in 1992.
The Mids will not be outweighed on both lines of scrimmage for a welcome change.
To say that the Mids' effort in their 38-0 defeat to Virginia was an improvement over the 1992 opener with the Cavaliers would be the understatement of the young season. They simply went nose-to-nose with their bigger opponents and didn't flinch.
The defensive line of Dave Shaw, Chris Reaghard, Stacey Yopp and Andy Person backed up by linebackers Javier Zuluaga, Shane Halloran, Grover Favors and Steve Lipsey proved that they could battle with anyone.
The short passing combination of Jim Kubiak to Damon Dixon tied the one-game completion record as Dixon slipped into the left flat time and time again to help Kubiak's 23-for-41 statistic.
On the minus side, the Mids showed little or no running threat. Jason Van Matre led all runners with 42 yards.
On two occasions Navy could not score inside Virginia's 10-yard-line even after four clean tries. The big hurt continues to show up on pass defense when opposing passers have too much time to throw and their receivers break clear too easily.
The contest tomorrow night offers Navy an excellent opportunity to sharpen all phases of its game and to move on to a winning season. The spirit and the determination is more upbeat than ever around The Yard and on the playing field. It could begin to pay off very soon.