After losses to Top 25 teams Louisville and Notre Dame ended its bowl ambitions, Navy has changed its focus to trying to complete its first winning season in 11 years.
The Mids (4-4) now will play teams of their own caliber, beginning tomorrow against Vanderbilt (3-5) in Nashville, Tenn. Navy then will play host to Southern Methodist before playing Army at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Dec. 4.
"Our goal now is to win our last three games," said junior linebacker Shane Halloran, who had 17 tackles in the 58-27 loss to Notre Dame on Oct. 30, when the Mids surprisingly led at the half, 24-17.
"We also want to preserve our winning streak at home [four straight] and we want to win the Commander-in-Chief Trophy [symbolic of inter-service football supremacy] by beating Army. If all that happens, someone might still consider us for a bowl."
Coach George Chaump is hoping the Mids' near-perfect 30 minutes against the second-ranked Fighting Irish will serve as a motivational tool and rallying point. "Yes, we lost to Notre Dame, but I'm looking at only the positives, and the great effort our players put forth," Chaump said. "I know we put them [the Irish] in a temporary state of shock."
Once again, against the Irish, Navy showed its ability to move through the air and to protect quarterback Jim Kubiak, who threw 39 times and wasn't sacked.
"Our offensive coordinator [Greg Briner] told us after we watched the films of the Notre Dame game, 'Now you guys realize how well you can play,' " senior guard Dan Pidgeon said.
A week's break in the schedule and a light practice schedule because of 12-week examinations have allowed key defensive linemen David Shaw and Stacey Yopp to recover from bumps and bruises suffered against Notre Dame.
Chaump expects his team to be at full strength for the Commodores, who are coming off a 12-7 victory over Kentucky last Saturday in which their defense limited the Wildcats to 230 yards.
"They've got a lot of their guys back from last year, including their whole offensive line," Chaump said. "They just wore us down with their running game."
Last year, the Mids trailed right from the start, with tailback Tony Jackson racing 52 yards for a touchdown on the second offensive play. The Commodores won, 27-7.
"We blew a lot of scoring opportunities in that game," Pidgeon said. "We were inside their 20-yard line five times and didn't score."
This season, Navy has scored 169 points despite shutout losses to Virginia and Louisville. Vanderbilt has managed 67 points.
"I thought we'd be real strong offensively because of the experience of our line," Vanderbilt coach Gerry DiNardo said. "But they haven't been consistent with their execution."