NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It will take a monumental reversal of form for the Navy football team to dig out of the rubble of yesterday's humiliating 41-7 rout by Vanderbilt.
The Midshipmen (4-5), who had looked so impressive in leading No. 2 Notre Dame at halftime only two weeks ago, committed a comedy of errors, committing 10 turnovers (five interceptions and five fumbles) to the delight of 21,708 fans at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The 41 points were half as many as Vanderbilt (4-5) had scored in its previous eight games.
"I'm just grateful they only scored 41," said Navy coach George Chaump. "I've never been involved before in a game when my team made 10 turnovers. You can't make that many mistakes and even smell the ball.
"There was a lot of carelessness, a lack of concentration, just as bad an exhibition as I've ever seen."
Whatever went wrong for the Mids seemingly went right for the Commodores, who saw the emergence of a new field leader in a redshirt freshman.
Vanderbilt, not Navy, was supposed to be having quarterback problems this season. Nashville papers last week were filled with stories extolling junior Jim Kubiak, who had shattered most of Navy's single-season passing records.
All but forgotten amid the hoopla was Ronnie Gordon, making only his second start after two other Commodores quarterbacks were found wanting.
But Gordon stole Kubiak's thunder yesterday, flawlessly executing the I-formation while rushing for 69 yards on clever options and scoring a pair of touchdowns before turning the offense over to fellow freshman Cedric Douglas late in the third quarter.
"I did some good things out there today, things that will give me confidence," said Gordon, who made his first start in last week's 12-7 victory over Kentucky. "We've been trying hard all season, but things finally happened for us."
Vanderbilt, led by tailback Tony Jackson's 120 yards on 15 carries, rolled up 422 yards offensively to only 165 for Navy, the Mids' lowest total since losing to Virginia 19 games ago. The Commodores scored in just about every imaginable way except through the air, keeping that season-long drought intact. But that was the only negative one could find in an otherwise overpowering performance on both sides of the line.
Head coach Gerry DiNardo, who received a glowing review from Sports Illustrated last week after upsetting Kentucky, prepared a bag full of tricks ready for Navy, using fake punts, field goals and reverses to keep the Mids guessing wrong all afternoon.
The first trick that caught the Mids napping was a fake punt by Bill Marinangel on fourth-and-seven from the Navy 40 early in the second quarter.
Marinangel tucked the ball under his arm and raced 21 yards to the 19, setting the stage for Gordon's tie-breaking touchdown on a 3-yard keeper.
If Gordon and the Commodores weren't running wild out of their deceptive I-formation, the opportunistic defense was busy capitalizing on Navy's repeated blunders.
The Mids managed only three yards offensively in the second quarter, while Vanderbilt took a 17-7 halftime lead.
The final score easily could have been a lot worse, but Steve Yenner missed two field goals and Gordon fumbled crossing the goal line early in the second quarter. For Kubiak, it was a most forgettable day. He had four passes intercepted (a personal record) and a fumble. Mercifully, he was replaced by Tony Solliday early in the fourth quarter.
"It was embarrassing," said Kubiak. "We did everything right on that first scoring drive, but I don't know what happened after that. There are no excuses for it, nothing the coaches could do to help, just a lot of individual breakdowns."
After matching Vanderbilt's opening 61-yard scoring drive with a flawless 59-yard march of their own, the Mids were back on their heels the rest of the afternoon, assuring their 12th straight road loss.
If Navy thought it had a chance to regroup in the second half, that dream was shattered quickly less than two minutes into the third quarter when Jackson took a pitch from Gordon and found clear sailing 58 yards down the sidelines.
The Mids' next four possessions were marred by two Kubiak interceptions and lost fumbles by tailback Jason Van Matre and receiver Damon Dixon. It was 34-7 after three quarters, and DiNardo substituted liberally in the last quarter.
Now dependent on winning the last two games against Southern Methodist and Army to complete their first winning season since Chaump was asked how he could reclaim the Mids' shattered confidence.
"We should just keep our mouths shut, grit our teeth and wait for another day," he said, walking out alone in a darkened stadium.
NEXT FOR NAVY: SMU
When: Saturday, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis
Yesterday: Lost to Texas Tech, 41-24.